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THE three following Essays on Eeligion were written 
at considerable intervals of time, without any intention 
of forming a consecutive series, and must not there- 
fore be regarded as a connected body of thought, 
excepting in so far as they exhibit the Author's delibe- 
rate and exhaustive treatment of the topics under 

The two first of these three Essays were written 
between the years 1850 and 1858, during the period 
which intervened between the publication of the 
Principles of Political Economy, and that of the 
work on Liberty ; during which interval three 
other Essays on Justice, on Utility, and on Liberty 
were also composed. Of the five Essays written at. 
that time, three have already been given to the 
public by the Author. That on Liberty was ex- 
panded into the now well-known work bearing the 
same title. Those on Justice and Utility were 
afterwards incorporated, with some alterations and 
additions, into one, and published under the name of 
Utilitarianism. The remaining two on Nature and 


on the Utility of Eeligion are now given to the 
public, with the addition of a third on Theism 
which was produced at a much later period. In 
these two first Essays indications may easily be found 
of the date at which they were composed; among 
which indications may be noted the absence of any 
mention of the works of Mr. Darwin and Sir Henry 
Maine in passages where there is coincidence of 
thought with those writers, or where subjects are 
treated which they have since discussed in a manner 
to which the Author of these Essays would certainly 
have referred had their works been published before 
these were written. 

The last Essay in the present volume belongs to a 
different epoch; it was written between the years 
1868 and 1870, but it was not designed as a sequel 
to the two Essays which now appear along with it, 
nor were they intended to appear all together. On 
the other hand it is certain that the Author con- 
sidered the opinions expressed in these different 
Essays, as fundamentally consistent. The evidence 
of this lies in the fact that in the year 1873, after 
he had completed his Essay on Theism, it was his 
intention to have published the Essay on Nature 
at once, with only such slight revision as might be 
judged necessary in preparing it for the press, but 
substantially in its present form. From this it is 


apparent that his manner of thinking had under- 
gone no substantial change. Whatever discrepancies, 
therefore, may seem to remain after a really careful 
comparison between different passages, may be set 
down either to the fact that the last Essay had not 
undergone the many revisions which it was the 
Author's habit to make peculiarly searching and 
thorough ; or to that difference of tone, and of ap- 
parent estimate of the relative weight of different 
considerations, which results from taking a wider 
view and including a larger number of considerations 
in the estimate of the subject as a whole, than in 
dealing with parts of it only. 

The fact that the Author intended to publish the 
Essay on Nature in 1873 is sufficient evidence, if any 
is needed, that the volume now given to the public 
was not withheld by him on account of reluctance to 
encounter whatever odium might result from the free 
expression of his opinions on religion. That he did 
not purpose to publish the other two Essays at the 
same time, was in accord with the Author's habit in 
regard to the public utterance of his religious opinions. 
For at the same time that he was peculiarly delibe- 
rate and slow in forming opinions, he had a special 
dislike to the utterance of half-formed opinions. He 
declined altogether to be hurried into premature de- 
cision on any point to which he did not think he had 


given sufficient time and labour to have exhausted it 
to the utmost limit of his own thinking powers. And, 
in the same way, even after he had arrived at definite 
conclusions, he refused to allow the curiosity of others 
to force him to the expression of them before he had 
bestowed all the elaboration in his power upon their 
adequate expression, and before, therefore, he had 
subjected to the test of time, not only the conclusions 
themselves, but also the form into which he had 
thrown them. The same reasons, therefore, that 
made him cautious in the spoken utterance of his 
opinion in proportion as it was necessary to be at once 
precise and comprehensive in order to be properly un- 
derstood; which in his judgment was pre-eminently 
the case in religious speculation, were the reasons 
that made him abstain from publishing his Essay 
on Nature for upwards of fifteen years, and might 
have led him still to withhold the others which now 
appear in the same volume. 

From this point of view it will be seen that the 
Essay on Theism has both greater value and less than 
any other of the Author's works. The last consider- 
able work which he completed, it shows the latest 
state of the Author's mind, the carefully balanced 
result of the deliberations of a lifetime. On the other 
hand, there had not been time for it to undergo the 
revision to which from time to time he subjected most 
of his writings before making them public. Not only 


therefore is the style less polished than that of any 
other of his published works, but even the matter 
itself, at least in the exact shape it here assumes, 
has never undergone the repeated examination which 
it certainly would have passed through before he would 
himself have given it to the world. 




NATURE , ... .3 


THEISM . : . 125 



THEISM * . . 130 

THE EVIDENCES OF THEISM .*.....'.., 138 








IMMORTALITY ,.'...... 197 

REVELATION t .'.-... 212 





"VT ATTIRE, natural, and tlie group of words derived 
from them, or allied to them in etymology, have 
at all times filled a great place in the thoughts and 
taken a strong hold on the feelings of mankind. That 
they should have done so is not surprising, when we 
consider what the words, in their primitive and most 
obvious signification, represent ; but it is unfortunate 
that a set of terms which play so great a part in 
moral and metaphysical speculation, should have 
acquired many meanings different from the primary 
one, yet sufficiently allied to it to admit of confusion. 
The words have thus become entangled in so many 
foreign associations, mostly of a very powerful and 
tenacious character, that they have come to excite, and 
to be the symbols of, feelings which their original 
meaning will by no means justify; and which have 
made them one of the most copious sources of false taste, 
false philosophy, false morality, and even bad law. 



The most important application of the Socratic 
Elenchus, as exhibited and improved by Plato, consists 
in dissecting large abstractions of this description ; 
fixing down to a precise definition the meaning which 
as popularly used they merely shadow forth, and 
questioning and testing the common maxims and 
opinions in which they bear a part. It is to be 
regretted that among the instructive specimens of this 
kind of investigation which Plato has left, and to 
which subsequent times have been so much indebted for 
whatever intellectual clearness they have attained, he 
has not enriched posterity with a dialogue irspl ^UO-EWC. 
If the idea denoted by the word had been subjected 
to his searching analysis, and the popular common- 
places in which it figures had been submitted to the 
ordeal of his powerful dialectics, his successors probably 
would not have rushed, as they speedily did, into 
modes of thinking and reasoning of which the falla- 
cious use of that word formed the corner stone ; a kind 
of fallacy from which he was himself singularly free. 

According to the Platonic method which is still the 
best type of such investigations, the first thing to be 
done with so vague a term is to ascertain precisely 
what it means. It is also a rule of the same method, 
that the meaning of an abstraction is best sought for 
in the concrete of an universal in the particular. 
Adopting this course with the word Nature, the first 
question must be, what is meant by the " nature " of 


a particular object? as of fire, of water, or of some 
individual plant or animal ? Evidently the ensemble 
or aggregate of its powers or properties : the modes in 
which it acts on other things (counting among those 
things the senses of the observer) and the modes in 

O ' 

which other things act upon it ; to which, in the case 
of a sentient being, must be added, its own capacities 
of feeling, or being conscious. The Nature of the 
thing means all this ; means its entire capacity of 
exhibiting phenomena. And since the phenomena 
which a thing exhibits, however much they vary in 
different circumstances, are always the same in the 
same circumstances, they admit of being described in 
general forms of words, which are called the laws of 
the thing's nature. Thus it is a law of the nature of 
water that under the mean pressure of the atmosphere 
at the level of the sea, it boils at 212 Fahrenheit. 

As the nature of any given thing is the aggregate 
of its powers and properties, so Nature in the abstract 
is the aggregate of the powers and properties of all 
things. Nature means the sum of all phenomena, 
together with the causes which produce them ; in- 
cluding not only all that happens, but all that is 
capable of happening; the unused capabilities of 
causes being as much a part of the idea of Nature, as 
those which take effect. Since all phenomena which 
have been sufficiently examined are found to take place 
with regularity, each having certain fixed conditions, 

B 2 


positive and negative, on the occurrence of which it 
invariably happens ; mankind have been able to ascer- 
tain, either by direct observation or by reasoning pro- 
cesses grounded on it, the conditions of the occurrence 
of many phenomena ; and the progress of science mainly 
consists in ascertaining those conditions. When dis- 
covered they can be expressed in general propositions, 
which are called laws of the particular phenomenon, 
and also, more generally, Laws of Nature. Thus, the 
truth that all material objects tend towards one 
another with a force directly as their masses and 
inversely as the square of their distance, is a law of 
Nature. The proposition that air and food are neces- 
sary to animal life, if it be as we have good reason to 
believe, true without exception, is also a law of nature, 
though the phenomenon of which it is the law is 
special, and not, like gravitation, universal. 

Nature, then, in this its simplest acceptation, is a 
collective name for all facts, actual and possible : or 
(to speak more accurately) a name for the mode, partly 
known to us and partly unknown, in which all things 
take place. For the word suggests, not so much the 
multitudinous detail of the phenomena, as the con- 
ception which might be formed of their manner of 
existence as a mental whole, by a mind possessing a 
complete knowledge of them : to which conception 
it is the aim of science to raise itself, by successive 
steps of generalization from experience. 


Such, then, is a correct definition of the word 
Nature. But this definition corresponds only to one 
of the senses of that ambiguous term. It is evidently 
inapplicable to some of the modes in which the word 
is familiarly employed. For example, it entirely con- 
flicts with the common form of speech by which 
Nature is opposed to Art, and .natural to artificial. 
For in the sense of the word Nature which has just 
been defined, and which is the true scientific sense, 
Art is as much Nature as anything else ; and every- 
thing which is artificial is natural Art has no 
independent powers of its own: Art is but the 
employment of the powers of Nature for an end. 
Phenomena produced by human agency, no less than 
those which as far as we are concerned are spontaneous, 
depend on the properties of the elementary forces, 
or of the elementary substances and their compounds. 
The united powers of the whole human race could not 
create a new property of matter in general, or of any 
one of its species. We can only take advantage for 
our purposes of the properties which we find. 
A ship floats by the same laws of specific gravity and 
equilibrium, as a tree uprooted by the wind and blown 
into the water. The corn which men raise for food, 
grows and produces its grain by the same laws of 
vegetation by which the wild rose and the mountain 
strawberry bring forth their flowers and fruit. A 
house stands and holds together by the natural pro- 


perties, the weight and cohesion of the materials 
which compose it : a steam engine works by the 
natural expansive force of steam, exerting a pressure 
upon one part of a system of arrangements, which 
pressure, by the mechanical properties of the lever, is 
transferred from that to another part where it raises the 
weight or removes the obstacle brought into connexion 
with it. In these and all other artificial operations 
the office of man is, as has often been remarked, a very 
limited one ; it consists in moving things into certain 
places. We move objects, and by doing this, bring 
some things into contact which were separate, or 
separate others which were in contact : and by this 
simple change of place, natural forces previously 
dormant are called into action, and produce the 
desired effect. Even the volition which designs, the 
intelligence which contrives, and the muscular force 
which executes these movements, are themselves 
powers of Nature. 

It thus appears that we must recognize at least two 
principal meanings in the word Nature. In one 
sense, it means all the powers existing in either the 
outer or the inner world and everything which takes 
place by means of those powers. In another sense, 
it means, riot everything which happens, but only 
what takes place without the agency, or without the 
voluntary and intentional agency, of man. This dis- 
tinction is far from exhausting the ambiguities of the 


word ; but it is the key to most of those on which 
important consequences depend. 

Such, then, being the two principal senses of the 
word Nature ; in which of these is it taken, or is it 
taken in either, when the word and its derivatives are 
used to convey ideas of commendation, approval, and 
even moral obligation ? 

It has conveyed such ideas in all ages. Naturam 
sequi was the fundamental principle of morals in many 
of the most admired schools of philosophy. Among 
the ancients, especially in the declining period of 
ancient intellect and thought, it was the test to which 
all ethical doctrines were brought. The Stoics and the 
Epicureans, however irreconcilable in the rest of their 
systems, agreed in holding themselves bound to prove 
that their respective maxims of conduct were the 
dictates of nature. Under their influence the Eoman 
jurists, when attempting to systematize jurisprudence, 
placed in the front of their exposition a certain Jus 
Naturale, " quod natura", as Justinian declares in 
the Institutes, " omnia animalia docuit " : and as the 
modern systematic writers not only on law but on 
moral philosophy, have generally taken the Eoman 
jurists for their models, treatises on the so-called Law 
of Nature have abounded ; and references to this Law 
as a supreme rule and ultimate standard have per- 
vaded literature. The writers on International Law 
have done more than any others to give currency to 


this style of ethical speculation ; inasmuch as having 
no positive law to write about, and yet being anxious 
to invest the most approved opinions respecting inter- 
national morality with as much as they could of the 
authority of law, they endeavoured to find such an 
authority in Nature's imaginary code. The Christian 
theology during the period of its greatest ascendancy, 
opposed some, though not a complete, hindrance to the 
modes of thought which erected Nature into the 
criterion of morals, inasmuch as, according to the 
creed of most denominations of Christians (though 
assuredly not of Christ) man is by nature wicked. 
But this very doctrine, by the reaction which it 
provoked, has made the deistical moralists almost 
unanimous in proclaiming the divinity of Nature, and 
setting up its fancied dictates as an authoritative rule 
of action. A reference to that supposed standard is 
the predominant ingredient in the vein of thought 

JT o o 

and feeling which was opened by Eousseau, and which 
has infiltrated itself most widely into the modern 
mind, not excepting that portion of it which calls 
itself Christian. The doctrines of Christianity have 
in every age been largely accommodated to the 
philosophy which happened to be prevalent, and the 
Christianity of our day has borrowed a considerable 
part of its colour and flavour from sentimental deism. 
At the present time it cannot be said that Nature, or 
any other standard, is applied as it was wont to be, to 


deduce rules of action with juridical precision, and 
with an attempt to make its application co-extensive 
with all human agency. The people of this genera- 
tion do not commonly apply principles with any such 
studious exactness, nor own such binding allegiance 
to any standard, but live in a kind of confusion of 
many standards ; a condition not propitious to the 
formation of steady moral convictions, but convenient 
enough to those whose moral opinions sit lightly on 
them, since it gives them a much wider range of 
arguments for defending the doctrine of the moment. 
But though perhaps no one could now be found who 
like the institutional writers of former times, adopts 
the so-called Law of Nature as the foundation of 
ethics, and endeavours consistently to reason from it, 
the word and its cognates must still be counted among 
those which carry great weight in moral argumenta- 
tion. That any mode of thinking, feeling, or acting, 
is "according to nature" is usually accepted as a 
strong argument for its goodness. If it can be said 
with any plausibility that "nature enjoins" anything, 
the propriety of obeying the injunction is by most 
people considered to be made out : and conversely, the 
imputation of being contrary to nature, is thought to 
bar the door against any pretension on the part of the 
thing so designated, to be tolerated or excused ; and 
the word unnatural has not ceased to be one of the 
most vituperative epithets in the language. Those 


who deal in these expressions, may avoid making 
themselves responsible for any fundamental theorem 
respecting the standard of moral obligation, but they 
do not the less imply such a theorem, and one which 
must be the same in substance with that on which the 
more logical thinkers of a more laborious age grounded 
their systematic treatises on Natural Law. 

Is it necessar} T to recognize in these forms of speech, 
another distinct meaning of the word Nature ? Or 
can they be connected, by any rational bond of union, 
with either of the two meanings already treated of? 
At first it may seem that we have no option but to 
admit another ambiguity in the term. All inquiries 
are either into what is, or into what ought to be : 
science and history belonging to the first division, 
art, morals and politics to the second. But the two 
senses of the word Nature first pointed out, agree in 
referring only to what is. In the first meaning, 
Nature is a collective name for everything which is. 
In the second, it is a name for everything which is of 
itself, without voluntary human intervention. But 
the employment of the word Nature as a term of 
ethics seems to disclose a third meaning, in which 
Nature does not stand for what is, but for what ought 
to be ; or for the rule or standard of what ought to be. 
A little consideration, however, will show that this is 
not a case of ambiguity ; there is not here a third 
sense of the word. Those who set up Nature as a 


standard of action do not intend a merely verbal pro- 
position ; they do not mean that the standard, whatever 
it be, should be called Nature ; they think they are 
giving some information as to what the standard of 
action really is. Those who say that we ought to act 
according to Nature do not mean the mere identical 
proposition that we ought to do what we ought to do. 
They think that the word Nature affords some external 
criterion of what we should do ; and if they lay down 
as a rule for what ought to be, a w r ord which in its 
proper signification denotes what is, they do so because 
they have a notion, either clearly or confusedly, that 
what is, constitutes the rule and standard of what 
ought to be. 

The examination of this notion, is the object of the 
present Essay. It is proposed to inquire into the 
truth of the doctrines which make Nature a test of 
right and wrong, good and evil, or which in any mode 
or degree attach merit or approval to following, imitat- 
ing, or obeying Nature. To this inquiry the foregoing 
discussion respecting the meaning of terms, was an 
indispensable introduction. Language is as it were 
the atmosphere of philosophical investigation, which 
must be made transparent before anything can be 
seen through it in the true figure and position. In 
the present case it is necessary to guard against a 
further ambiguity, which though abundantly obvious, 
has sometimes misled even sagacious minds, and of 


which it is well to take distinct note before proceeding 
further. No word is more commonly associated with 
the word Nature, than Law ; and this last word has 
distinctly two meanings, in one of which it denotes 
some definite portion of what is, in the other, of what 
ought to be. We speak of the law of gravitation, the 
three laws of motion, the law of definite proportions 
in chemical combination, the vital laws of organized 
beings. All these are portions of what is. We also speak 
of the criminal law, the civil law, the law of honour, the 
law of veracity, the law of justice ; all of which are por- 
tions of what ought to be, or of somebody's suppositions, 
feelings, or commands respecting what ought to be. 
The first kind of laws, such as the laws of motion, and 
of gravitation, are neither more nor less than the ob- 
served uniformities in the occurrence of phenomena : 
partly uniformities of antecedence and sequence, 
partly of concomitance. These are what, in science, 
and even in ordinary parlance, are meant by laws of 
nature. Laws in the other sense are the laws of the 
land, the law of nations, or moral laws ; among which, 
as already noticed, is dragged in, by jurists and publi- 
cists, something which they think proper to call the 
Law of Nature. Of the liability of these two mean- 
ings of the word to be confounded there can be no 
better example than the first chapter of Montesquieu ; 
where he remarks, that the material world has its 
laws, the inferior animals have their laws, and man has 


his laws; and calls attention to the much greater 
strictness with which the first two sets of laws are 
observed, than the last ; as if it were an inconsistency, 
and a paradox, that things always are what they are, 
but men not always what they ought to be. A similar 
confusion of ideas pervades the writings of Mr. George 
Cornbe, from whence it has overflowed into a large 
region of popular literature, and we are now con- 
tinually reading injunctions to obey the physical laws 
of the universe, as being obligatory in the same sense 
and manner as the moral. The conception which the 
ethical use of the word Nature implies, of a close rela- 
tion if not absolute identity between what is and 
what ought to be, certainly derives part of its hold on 
the mind from the custom of designating what is, by 
the expression " laws of nature," while the same word 
Law is also used, and even more familiarly and em- 
phatically, to express what ought to be. 

When it is asserted, or implied, that Nature, or the 
laws of Nature, should be conformed to, is the Nature 
which is meant, Nature in the first sense of the term, 
meaning all which is the powers and properties of 
all things ? But in this signification, there is no 
need of a recommendation to act according to nature, 
since it is what nobody can possibly help doing, and 
equally whether he acts well or ill. There is no mode 
of acting winch is not conformable to Nature in this 
sense of the term, and all modes of acting are so in 


exactly the same degree. Every action is the exertion 
of some natural power, and its effects of all sorts are 
so many phenomena of nature, produced by the powers 
and properties of some of the objects of nature, in 
exact obedience to some law or laws of nature. When 
I voluntarily use my organs to take in food, the act, 
and its consequences, take place according to laws of 
nature : if instead of food I swallow poison, the case 
is exactly the same. To bid people conform to the 
laws of nature when they have no power but what the 
laws of nature give them when it is a physical im- 
possibility for them to do the smallest thing otherwise 
than through some law of nature, is an absurdity. 
The thing they need to be told is, what particular 
law of nature they should make use of in a particular 
case. When, for example, a person is crossing a river 
by a narrow bridge to which there is no parapet, he 
will do well to regulate his proceedings by the laws of 
equilibrium in moving bodies, instead of conforming 
only to the law of gravitation, and falling into the 

Yet, idle as it is to exhort people to do what they 
cannot avoid doing, and absurd as it is to prescribe as 
a rule of right conduct what agrees exactly as well 
with wrong ; nevertheless a rational rule of conduct 
may be constructed out of the relation which it ought 
to bear to the laws of nature in this widest acceptation 
of the term. Man necessarily obeys the laws of nature, 


or in other words the properties of things, but he does 
not necessarily guide himself by them. Though all 
conduct is in conformity to laws of nature, all con- 
duct is not grounded on knowledge of them, and 
intelligently directed to the attainment of purposes 
by means of them. Though we cannot emancipate 
ourselves from the laws of nature as a whole, we can 
escape from any particular law of nature, if we are 
able to withdraw ourselves from the circumstances in 
which it acts. Though we can do nothing except 
through laws of nature, we can use one law to counter- 
act another. According to Bacon's maxim, we can 
obey nature in such a manner as to command it. 
Every alteration of circumstances alters more or less 
the laws of nature under which we act ; and by every 
choice which we make either of ends or of means, we 
place ourselves to a greater or less extent under one 
set of laws of nature instead of another. If, therefore, 
the useless precept to follow nature were changed into a 
precept to study nature ; to know and take heed of 
the properties of the things we have to deal with, so 
far as these properties are capable of forwarding or ob- 
structing any given purpose ; we should have arrived 
at the first principle of all intelligent action, or rather 
at the definition of intelligent action itself. And a 
confused notion of this true principle, is, I doubt not, 
in the minds of many of those who set up the un- 
meaning doctrine which superficially resembles it. 


They perceive that the essential difference between 
wise and foolish conduct consists in attending, or not 
attending, to the particular laws of nature on which 
some important result depends. And they think, that 
a person who attends to a law of nature in order to 
shape his conduct by it, may be said to obey it, while 
a person who practically disregards it, and acts as if 
no such law existed, may be said to disobey it : the 
circumstance being overlooked, that what is thus called 
disobedience to a law of nature is obedience to some 
other or perhaps to the very law itself. For example, 
a person who goes into a powder magazine either not 
knowing, or carelessly omitting to think of, the ex- 
plosive force of gunpowder, is likely to do some act 
which will cause him to be blown to atoms in obedi- 
ence to the very law which he has disregarded. 

But however much of its authority the " Naturam 
sequi " doctrine may owe to its being confounded with 
the rational precept "Naturam observare," its favourers 
and promoters unquestionably intend much more by it 
than that precept. To acquire knowledge of the pro- 
perties of things, and make use of the knowledge for 
guidance, is a rule of prudence, for the adaptation of 
means to ends ; for giving effect to our wishes and 
intentions whatever they may be. But the maxim of 
obedience to Nature, or conformity to Nature, is held up 
not as a simply prudential but as an ethical maxim ; 
and by those who talk of jus naturce, even as a law, fit 


to be administered by tribunals and enforced by 
sanctions. Eight action, must mean something 
more and other than merely intelligent action : yet no 
precept beyond this last, can be connected with the 
word Nature in the wider and more philosophical of its 
acceptations. We must try it therefore in the other 
sense, that in which Nature stands distinguished from 
Art, and denotes, not the whole course of the pheno- 
mena which come under our observation, but only 
their spontaneous course. 

Let us then consider whether we can attach any 
meaning to the supposed practical maxim of following 
Nature, in this second sense of the word, in which 
Nature stands for that which takes place without hu- 
man intervention. In Nature as thus understood, is 
the spontaneous course of things when left to them- 
selves, the rule to be followed in endeavouring to 
adapt things to our use ? But it is evident at once 
that the maxim, taken in this sense, is not merely, as 
it is in the other sense, superfluous and unmeaning, 
but palpably absurd and self-contradictory. For while 
human action cannot help conforming to Nature 
in the one meaning of the term, the very aim and ob- 
ject of action is to alter and improve Nature in the 
other meaning. If the natural course of things were 
perfectly right and satisfactory, to act at all would be 
a gratuitous meddling, which as it could not make 
things better, must make them worse. Or if action at 



all could be justified, it would only be when in direct 
obedience to instincts, since these might perhaps be 
accounted part of the spontaneous order of Nature ; 
but to do anything with forethought and purpose, 
would be a violation of that perfect order. If the 
artificial is not better than the natural, to what end are 
all the arts of life ? To dig, to plough, to build, to 
wear clothes, are direct infringements of the injunc- 
tion to follow nature. 

Accordingly it would be said by every one, even of 
those most under the influence of the feelings which 
prompt the injunction, that to apply it to such cases 
as those just spoken of, would be to push it too far. 
Everybody professes to approve and admire many 
great triumphs of Art over Nature : the junction by 
bridges of shores which Nature had made separate, 
the draining of Nature's marshes, the excavation of 
her wells, the dragging to light of what she has 
buried at immense depths in the earth; the turning 
away of her thunderbolts by lightning rods, of her 
inundations by embankments, of her ocean by break- 
waters. But to commend these and similar feats, is 
to acknowledge that the ways of Nature are to be 
conquered, not obeyed : that her powers are often 
towards man in the position of enemies, from whom 
he must wrest, by force and ingenuity, what little 
he can for his own use, and deserves to be applauded 
when that little is rather more than might be ex- 


pected from his physical weakness in comparison to 
those gigantic powers. All praise of Civilization, 
or Art, or Contrivance, is so much dispraise of 
Nature ; an admission of imperfection, which it is 
man's business, and merit, to be always endeavouring 
to correct or mitigate. 

The consciousness that whatever man does to 
improve his condition is in so much a censure and 
a thwarting of the spontaneous order of Nature, has 
in all ages caused new and unprecedented attempts at 
improvement to be generally at first under a shade of 
religious suspicion ; as being in any case uncompli- 
mentary, and very probably offensive to the powerful 
beings (or, when polytheism gave place to mono- 
theism, to the all-powerful Being) supposed to 
govern the various phenomena of the universe, and of 
whose will the course of nature was conceived to 
be the expression. Any attempt to mould natural 
phenomena to the convenience of mankind might 
easily appear an interference with the government of 
those superior beings : and though life could not 
have been maintained, much less made pleasant, 
without perpetual interferences of the kind, each new 
one was doubtless made with fear and trembling, 
until experience had shown that it could be ventured 
on without drawing down the vengeance of the Gods. 
The sagacity of priests showed them a way to recon- 
cile the impunity of particular infringements with the 

c 2 


maintenance of the general dread of encroaching on 
the divine administration. This was effected by repre- 
senting each of the principal human inventions as the 
gift and favour of some God. The old religions also 
afforded many resources for consulting the Gods, and 
obtaining their express permission for what would 
otherwise have appeared a breach of their prerogative. 
When oracles had ceased, any religion which recognized 
a revelation afforded expedients for the same purpose. 
The Catholic religion had the resource of an infallible 
Church, authorized to declare what exertions of 
human spontaneity were permitted or forbidden ; and 
in default of this, the case was always open to argu- 
ment from the Bible whether any particular practice 
had expressly or by implication been sanctioned. 
The notion remained that this liberty to control 
Nature was conceded to man only by special in- 
dulgence, and as far as required by his necessities ; 
and there was always a tendency, though a diminishing 
one, to regard any attempt to exercise power over 
nature, beyond a certain degree, and a certain ad- 
mitted range, as an impious effort to usurp divine 
power, and dare more than was permitted to man. 
The lines of Horace in which the familiar arts of 
shipbuilding and navigation are reprobated as vetitum 
nefas, indicate even in that sceptical age a still unex- 
hausted vein of the old sentiment. The intensity of 
the corresponding feeling in the middle ages is not a 


precise parallel, on account of the superstition about 
dealing with evil spirits with which it was com- 
plicated : but the imputation of prying into the secrets 
of the Almighty long remained a powerful weapon of 
attack against unpopular inquirers into nature ; and 
the charge of presumptuously attempting to defeat 
the designs of Providence, still retains enough of its 
original force to be thrown in as a make- weight along 
with other objections when there is a desire to find 
fault with any new exertion of human forethought 
and contrivance. No one, indeed, asserts it to be 
the intention of the Creator that the spontaneous 
order of the creation should not be altered, or even 
that it should not be altered in any new way. 
But there still exists a vague notion that though 
it is very proper to control this or the other natural 
phenomenon, the general scheme of nature is a model 
for us to imitate : that with more or less liberty in 
details, we should on the whole be guided by the 
spirit and general conception of nature's own ways : 
that they are God's work, and as such perfect ; that 
man cannot rival their unapproachable excellence, 
and can best show his skill and piety by attempting, 
in however imperfect a way, to reproduce their 
likeness; and that if not the whole, yet some par- 
ticular parts of the spontaneous order of nature, 
selected according to the speaker's predilections, are 
in a peculiar sense, manifestations of the Creator's 


will; a sort of finger posts pointing out the direction 
which things in general, and therefore our voluntary 
actions, are intended to take. Feelings of this sort, 
though repressed on ordinary occasions by the 
contrary current of life, are ready to break out 
whenever custom is silent, and the native promptings 
of the mind have nothing opposed to them but 
reason: and appeals are continually made to them by 
rhetoricians, with the effect, if not of convincing 
opponents, at least of making those who already hold 
the opinion which the rhetorician desires to re- 
commend, better satisfied with it. For in the present 
day it probably seldom happens that any one is 
persuaded to approve any course of action because it 
appears to him to bear an analogy to the divine 
government of the world, though the argument tells 
on him with great force, and is felt by him to be a 
great support, in behalf of anything which he is 
already inclined to approve. 

If this notion of imitating the ways of Providence 
as manifested in Nature, is seldom expressed plainly 
and downrightly as a maxim of general application, it 
also is seldom directly contradicted. Those who find it 
on their path, prefer to turn the obstacle rather than 
to attack it, being often themselves not free from the 
feeling, and in any case afraid of incurring the charge 
of impiety by saying anything which might be held 
to disparage the works of the Creator's power. They 


therefore, for the most part, rather endeavour to show, 
that they have as much right to the religious argu- 
ment as their opponents, and that if the course they 
recommend seems to conflict with some part of the 
ways of Providence, there is some other part with 
which it agrees better than what is contended for on 
the other side. In this mode of dealing with the 
great a priori fallacies, the progress of improvement 
clears away particular errors while the causes of errors 
are still left standing, and very little weakened by 
each conflict : yet by a long series of such partial 
victories precedents are accumulated, to which an 
appeal may be made against these powerful pre- 
possessions, and which afford a growing hope that the 
misplaced feeling, after having so often learnt to 
recede, may some day be compelled to an unconditional 
surrender. For however offensive the proposition 
may appear to many religious persons, they should be 
willing to look in the face the undeniable fact, that 
the order of nature, in so far as unmodified by man, 
is such as no being, whose attributes are justice and 
benevolence, would have made, with the intention 
that his rational creatures should follow it as an 
example. If made wholly by such a Being, and not 
partly by beings of very different qualities, it could 
only be as a designedly imperfect work, which man, 
in his limited sphere, is to exercise justice and bene- 
volence in amending. The best persons have always 


held it to be the essence of religion, that the paramount 
duty of man upon earth is to amend himself : but all 
except monkish quietists have annexed to this in their 
inmost minds (though seldom willing to enunciate 
the obligation with the same clearness) the additional 
religious duty of amending the world, and not solely 
the human part of it but the material ; the order of 
physical nature. 

In considering this subject it is necessary to divest 
ourselves of certain preconceptions which may justly 
be called natural prejudices, being grounded on 
feelings which, in themselves natural and inevitable, 
intrude into matters with which they ought to have 
no concern. One of these feelings is the astonishment, 
rising into awe, which is inspired (even independently 
of all religious sentiment) by any of the greater 
natural phenomena. A hurricane ; a mountain pre- 
cipice ; the desert ; the ocean, either agitated or at 
rest ; the solar system, and the great cosmic forces 
which hold it together ; the boundless firmament, 
and to an educated mind any single star ; excite 
feelings which make all human enterprises and powers 
appear so insignificant, that to a mind thus occupied 
it seems insufferable presumption in so puny a 
creature as man to look critically on things so far 
above him, or dare to measure himself against the 
grandeur of the universe. But a little interrogation 
of our own consciousness will suffice to convince us, 


that .what makes these phenomena so impressive is 
simply their vastness. The enormous extension in 
space and time, or the enormous power they 
exemplify, constitutes their sublimity ; a feeling in 
all cases, more allied to terror than to any moral 
emotion. And though the vast scale of these pheno- 
mena may well excite wonder, and sets at defiance all 
idea of rivalry, the feeling it inspires is of a totally 
different character from admiration of excellence. 
Those in whom awe produces admiration may be 
aesthetically developed, but they are morally uncul- 
tivated. It is one of the endowments of the imagina- 
tive part of our mental nature that conceptions of 
greatness and power, vividly realized, produce a 
feeling which though in its higher degrees closely 
bordering on pain, we prefer to most of what are 
accounted pleasures. But we are quite equally 
capable of experiencing this feeling towards male- 
ficent power ; and we never experience it so strongly 
towards most of the powers of the universe, as when 
we have most present to our consciousness a vivid 
sense of their capacity of inflicting evil. Because 
these natural powers have what we cannot imitate, 
enormous might, and overawe us by that one attribute, 
it would be a great error to infer that their other 
attributes are such as we ought to emulate, or that 
we should be justified in using our small powers after 
the example which Nature sets us with her vast forces. 


For, how stands the fact? That next to the 
greatness of these cosmic forces, the quality which 
most forcibly strikes every one who does not avert his 
eyes from it, is their perfect and absolute recklessness. 
They go straight to their end, without regarding 
what or whom they crush on the road. Optimists, 
in their attempts to prove that "whatever is, is right," 
are obliged to maintain, not that Nature ever turns 
one step from her path to avoid trampling us into 
destruction, but that it would be very unreasonable 
in us to expect that she should. Pope's " Shall 
gravitation cease when you go by?" may be a just 
rebuke to any one who should be so silly as to expect 
common human morality from nature. But if the 
question were between two men, instead of between 
a man and a natural phenomenon, that triumphant 
apostrophe would be thought a rare piece of impu- 
dence. A man who should persist in hurling stones 
or firing cannon when another man " goes by," and 
having killed him should urge a similar plea in 
exculpation, would very deservedly be found guilty 
of murder. 

In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are 
hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another, are 
nature's every day performances. Killing, the most 
criminal act recognized by human laws, Nature does 
once to every being that lives ; and in a large pro- 
portion of cases, after protracted tortures such as only 


the greatest monsters whom we read of ever purposely 
inflicted on their living fellow-creatures. If, by an 
arbitrary reservation, we refuse to account anything 
murder but what abridges a certain term supposed to 
be allotted to human life, nature also does this to all 
but a small percentage of lives, and does it in all the 
modes, violent or insidious, in which the worst human 
beings take the lives of one another. Nature impales 
men, breaks them as if on the wheel, casts them to be 
devoured by wild beasts, burns them to death, crushes 
them w r ith stones like the first Christian martyr, 
starves them with hunger, freezes them with cold, 
poisons them by the quick or slow venom of her ex- 
halations, and has hundreds of other hideous deaths 
in reserve, such as the ingenious cruelty of a Nabis or 
a Domitian never surpassed. All this, Nature does 
with the most supercilious disregard both of mercy 
and of justice, emptying her shafts upon the best and 
noblest indifferently with the meanest and worst ; 
upon those who are engaged in the highest and 
worthiest enterprises, and often as the direct con- 
sequence of the noblest acts; and it might almost 
be imagined as a punishment for them. She mows 
down those on whose existence hangs the well-being 
of a whole people, perhaps the prospects of the human 
race for generations to come, with as little compunc- 
tion as those whose death is a relief to themselves, or 
a blessing to those under their noxious influence. 


Such are Nature's dealings with life. Even when she 
does not intend to kill, she inflicts the same tortures 
in apparent wantonness. In the clumsy provision 
which she has made for that perpetual renewal of 
animal life, rendered necessary by the prompt termina- 
tion she puts to it in every individual instance, no 
human being ever comes into the world but another 
human being is literally stretched on the rack for 
hours or days, not unfrequently issuing in death. 
Next to taking life (equal to it according to a high 
authority) is taking the means by which we live ; and 
Nature does this too on the largest scale and with the 
most callous indifference. A single hurricane destroys 
the hopes of a season; a flight of locusts, or an 
inundation, desolates a district ; a trifling chemical 
change in an edible root, starves a million of people. 
The waves of the sea, like banditti seize and appro- 
priate the wealth of the rich and the little all of the 
poor with the same accompaniments of stripping, 
wounding, and killing as their human antitypes. 
Everything in short, which the worst men commit 
either against life or property is perpetrated on a 
larger scale by natural agents. Nature has Noyades 
more fatal than those of Carrier; her explosions of 
fire damp are as destructive as human artillery ; her 
plague and cholera far surpass the poison cups of the 
Borgias. Even the love of " order" which is thought 
to be a following of the ways of Nature, is in fact 


a contradiction of them. All which people are 
accustomed to deprecate as "disorder" and its con- 
sequences, is precisely a counterpart of Nature's ways. 
Anarchy and the Reign of Terror are overmatched in 
injustice, ruin, and death, by a hurricane and a 

But, it is said, all these things are for wise and 
good ends. On this I must first remark that whether 
they are so or not, is altogether beside the point. 
Supposing it true that contrary to appearances these 
horrors when perpetrated by Nature, promote good 
ends, still as no one believes that good ends would be 
promoted by our following the example, the course of 
Nature cannot be a proper model for us to imitate. 
Either it is right that we should kill because nature- 
kills ; torture because nature tortures ; ruin and 
devastate because nature does the like ; or we ought 
not to consider at all what nature does, but what it is 
good to do. If there is such a thing as a reductio ad 
absurdum, this surely amounts to one. If it is a 
sufficient reason for doing one thing, that nature does 
it, why not another thing? If not * all things, why 
anything? The physical government of the world 
being full of the things which when done by men are 
deemed the greatest enormities, it cannot be religious 
or moral in us to guide our actions by the analogy of 
the course of nature. This proposition remains true, 
whatever occult quality of producing good may reside 


in those facts of nature which to our perceptions are 
most noxious, and which no one considers it other 
than a crime to produce artificially. 

But, in reality, no one consistently believes in any 
such occult quality. The phrases which ascribe 
perfection to the course of nature can only be con- 
sidered as the exaggerations of poetic or devotional 
feeling, not intended to stand the test of a sober 
examination. No one, either religious or irreligious, 
believes that the hurtful agencies of nature, considered 
as a whole, promote good purposes, in any other way 
than by inciting human rational creatures to rise up 
and struggle against them. If we believed that those 
agencies were appointed by a benevolent Providence 
as the means of accomplishing wise purposes which 
could not be compassed if they did not exist, then 
everything done by mankind which tends to chain up 
these natural agencies or to restrict their mischievous 
operation, from draining a pestilential marsh down to 
curing the toothache, or putting up an umbrella, 
ought to be accounted impious ; which assuredly 
nobody does account them, notwithstanding an 
undercurrent of sentiment setting in that direction 
which is occasionally perceptible. On the contrary, 
the improvements on which the civilized part of 
mankind most pride themselves, consist in more 
successfully warding off those natural calamities 
which if we really believed what most people profess 


to believe, we should cherish as medicines provided 
for our earthly state by infinite wisdom. Inasmuch 
too as each generation greatly surpasses its pre- 
decessors in the amount of natural evil which it 
succeeds in averting, our condition, if the theory 
were, true, ought by this time to have become a 
terrible manifestation of some tremendous calamity, 
against which the physical evils we have learnt to 
overmaster, had previously operated as a pre- 
servative. Any one, however, who acted as if he 
supposed this to be the case, would be more likely, I 
think, to be confined as a lunatic, than reverenced as 
a saint. 

It is undoubtedly a very common fact that good 
comes out of evil, and when it does occur, it is far 
too agreeable not to find people eager to dilate on it. 
But in the first place, it is quite as often true of 
human crimes, as of natural calamities. The fire of 
London, which is believed to have had so salutary an 
effect on the healthiness of the city, would have 
produced that effect just as much if it had been really 
the work of the " furor papisticus" so long com- 
memorated on the Monument. The deaths of those 
whom tyrants or persecutors have made martyrs in 
any noble cause, have done a service to mankind 
which would not have been obtained if they had died 
by accident or disease. Yet whatever incidental and 
unexpected benefits may result from crimes, they are 


crimes nevertheless. In the second place, if good 
frequently comes out of evil, the converse fact, evil 
coming out of good, is equally common. Every event 
public or private, which, regretted on its occurrence, 
was declared providential at a later period on account 
of some unforeseen good consequence, might be 
matched by some other event, deemed fortunate at 
the time, but which proved calamitous or fatal to 
those whom it appeared to benefit. Such conflicts 
between the beginning and the end, or between the 
event and the expectation, are not only as frequent, 
but as often held up to notice, in the painful cases as 
in the agreeable ; but there is not the same inclination 
to generalize on them ; or at all events they are not 
regarded by the moderns (though they were by the 
ancients) as similarly an indication of the divine 
purposes : men satisfy themselves with moralizing on 
the imperfect nature of our foresight, the uncertainty 
of events, and the vanity of human expectations. 
The simple fact is, human interests are so compli- 
cated, and the effects of any incident whatever so 
multitudinous, that if it touches mankind at all, its 
influence on them is, in the great majority of cases, 
both good and bad. If the greater number of personal 
misfortunes have their good side, hardly any good 
fortune ever befel any one which did not give either 
to the same or to some other person, something to 
regret : and unhappily there are many misfortunes so 


overwhelming that their favourable side, if it exist, is 
entirely overshadowed and made insignificant ; while 
the corresponding statement can seldom be made 
concerning blessings. The effects too of every cause 
depend so much on the circumstances which acci- 
dentally accompany it, that many cases are sure to 
occur in which even the total result is markedly 
opposed to the predominant tendency : and thus not 
only evil has its good and good its evil side, but good 
often produces an overbalance of evil and evil an 
overbalance of good. This, however, is by no means 
the general tendency of either phenomenon. On the 
contrary, both good and evil naturally tend to fructify, 
each in its own kind, good producing good, and evil, 
evil. It is one of Nature's general rules, and part of 
her habitual injustice, that " to him that hath shall be 
given, but from him that hath not, shall be taken 
even that which he hath." The ordinary and pre- 
dominant tendency of good is towards more good. 
Health, strength, wealth, knowledge, virtue, are not 
only good in themselves but facilitate and promote 
the acquisition of good, both of the same and of other 
kinds. The person who can learn easily, is he who 
already knows much : it is the strong and not the 
sickly person who can do everything which most 
conduces to health; those who find it easy to gain 
money are not the poor but the rich ; while health, 
strength, knowledge, talents, are all means of acquiring 



riches, and riches are often an indispensable means of 
acquiring these. Again, e converse, whatever may be 
said of evil turning into good, the general tendency 
of evil is towards further evil. Bodily illness renders 
the body more susceptible of disease ; it produces 
incapacity of exertion, sometimes debility of mind, 
and often the loss of means of subsistence. All 
severe pain, either bodily or mental, tends to increase 
the susceptibilities of pain for ever after. Poverty is 
the parent of a thousand mental and moral evils. 
What is still worse, to be injured or oppressed, when 
habitual, lowers the whole tone of the character. 
One bad action leads to others, both in the agent 
himself, in the bystanders, and in the sufferers. All 
bad qualities are strengthened by habit, and all vices 
and follies tend to spread. Intellectual defects 
generate moral, and moral, intellectual; and every 
intellectual or moral defect generates others, and so 
on without end. 

That much applauded class of authors, the writers 
on natural theology, have, I venture to think, entirety 
lost their way, and missed the sole line of argument 
which could have made their speculations acceptable 
to any one who can perceive when two propositions 
contradict one another. They have exhausted the 
resources of sophistry to make it appear that all the 
suffering in the world exists to prevent greater that 
misery exists, for fear lest there should be misery : a 


thesis which if ever so well maintained, could only 
avail to explain and justify the works of limited beings, 
compelled to labour under conditions independent of 
their own will ; but can have no application to a 
Creator assumed to be omnipotent, who, if he bends 
to a supposed necessity, himself makes the necessity 
which he bends to. If the maker of the world can 
all that he will, he wills misery, and there is 110 
escape from the conclusion. The more consistent of 
those who have deemed themselves qualified to " vin- 
dicate the ways of God to man " have endeavoured to 
avoid the alternative by hardening their hearts, and 
denying that misery is an evil. The goodness of 
God, they say, does not consist in willing the happi- 
ness of his creatures, but their virtue ; and the uni- 
verse, if not a happy, is a just, universe. But waving 
the objections to this scheme of ethics, it does not at 
all get rid of the difficulty. If the Creator of man- 
kind willed that they should all be virtuous, his 
designs are as completely baffled as if he had willed 
that they should all be happy : and the order of nature 
is constructed with even less regard to the requirements 
of justice than to those of benevolence. If the law of all 
creation were justice and the Creator omnipotent, then 
in whatever amount suffering and happiness might be 
dispensed to the world, each person's share of them 
would be exactly proportioned to that person's good or 
evil deeds ; no human being would have a worse lot 

D 2 


than another, without worse deserts ; accident or 
favouritism would have no part in such a world, but 
every human life would be the playing out of a drama 
constructed like a perfect moral tale. No one is able 
to blind himself to the fact that the world we live in 
is totally different from this ; insomuch that the 
necessity of redressing the balance has been deemed 
one of the strongest arguments for another life after 
death, which amounts to an admission that the order 
of things in this life is often an example of injustice, 
not justice. If it be said that Grod does not take 
sufficient account of pleasure and pain to make them 
the reward or punishment of the good or the wicked, 
but that virtue is itself the greatest good and vice the 
greatest evil, then these at least ought to be dis- 
pensed to all according to what they have done to 
deserve them ; instead of which, every kind of moral 
depravity is entailed upon multitudes by the fatality 
of their birth ; through the fault of their parents, of 
society, or of uncontrollable circumstances, certainly 
through no fault of their own. Not even on the most 
distorted and contracted theory of good which ever 
was framed by religious or philosophical fanaticism, 
can the government of Nature be made to resemble the 
work of a being at once good and omnipotent. 

The only admissible moral theory of Creation is 
that the Principle of Good cannot at once and alto- 
gether subdue the powers of evil, either physical or 


moral ; could not place mankind in a world free from 
the necessity of an incessant struggle with the male- 
ficent powers, or make them always victorious in that 
struggle, but could and did make them capable of 
carrying on the fight with vigour and with progres- 
sively increasing success. Of all the religious ex- 
planations of the order of nature, this alone is neither 
contradictory to itself, nor to the facts for which it 
attempts to account. According to it, man's duty 
would consist, not in simply taking care of his own 
interests by obeying irresistible power, but in standing 
forward a not ineffectual auxiliary to a Being of per- 
fect beneficence ; a faith which seems much better 
adapted for nerving him to exertion than a vague and 
inconsistent reliance on an Author of Good who is 
supposed to be also the author of evil. And I venture 
to assert that such has really been, though often 
unconsciously, the faith of all who have drawn strength 
and support of any worthy kind from trust in a super- 
intending Providence. There is no subject on which 
men's practical belief is more incorrectly indicated by 
the words they use to express it, than religion. Many 
have derived a base confidence from imagining them- 
selves to be favourites of an omnipotent but capricious 
and despotic Deity. But those who have been strength- 
ened in goodness by relying on the sympathizing 
support of a powerful and good Governor of the world, 
have, I am satisfied, never really believed that 


Governor to be, in the strict sense of the term, omni- 
potent. They have always saved his goodness at the 
expense of his power. They have believed, perhaps, 
that he could, if he willed, remove all the thorns from 
their individual path, but not without causing greater 
harm to some one else, or frustrating some purpose of 
greater importance to the general well-being. They 
have believed that he could do any one thing, but not 
any combination of things : that his government, like 
human government, was a system of adjustments and 
compromises ; that the world is inevitably imperfect, 
contrary to his intention.* And since the exertion 
of all his power to make it as little imperfect as pos- 
sible, leaves it no better than it is, they cannot but 
regard that power, though vastly beyond human esti- 
mate, yet as in itself not merely finite, but extremely 
limited. They are bound, for example, to suppose 

* This irresistible conviction comes out in the writings of religious 
philosophers, in exact proportion to the general clearness of their un- 
derstanding. It nowhere shines forth so distinctly as in Leibnitz's 
famous Theodicee, so strangely mistaken for a system of optimism, 
and, as such, satirized by Voltaire on grounds which do not even 
touch the author's argument. Leibnitz does not maintain that this 
world is the best of all imaginable, but only of all possible worlds ; 
which, he argues, it cannot but be, inasmuch as God, who is absolute 
goodness, has chosen it and not another. In every page of the work he 
tacitly assumes an abstract possibility and impossibility, independent of 
the divine power : and though his pious feelings make him continue to 
designate that power by the word Omnipotence, he so explains that 
term as to make it mean, power extending to all that is within the 
limits of that abstract possibility. 


that the best he could do for his human creatures was 
to make an immense majority of all who have yet 
existed, be born (without any fault of their own) 
Patagonians, or Esquimaux, or something nearly as 
brutal and degraded, but to give them capacities 
which by being cultivated for very many centuries in 
toil and suffering, and after many of the best speci- 
mens of the race have sacrificed their lives for the 
purpose, have at last enabled some chosen portions of 
the species to grow into something better, capable of 
being improved in centuries more into something 
really good, of which hitherto there are only to be 
found individual instances, It may be possible to 
believe with Plato that perfect goodness, limited and 
thwarted in every direction by the intractableness of 
the material, has done this because it could do no 
better. But that the same perfectly wise and good 
Being had absolute power over the material, and made 
it, by voluntary choice, what it is ; to admit this 
might have been supposed impossible to any one who 
has the simplest notions of moral good and evil. 
Nor can any such person, whatever kind of religious 
phrases he may use, fail to believe, that if Nature and 
Man are both the works of a Being of perfect good- 
ness, that Being intended Nature as a scheme to be 
amended, not imitated, by Man. 

But even though unable to believe that Nature, as a 
whole, is a realization of the designs of perfect wisdom 


and benevolence, men do not willingly renounce the 
idea that some part of Nature, at least, must be in- 
tended as an exemplar, or type ; that on some portion 
or other of the Creator's works, the image of the moral 
qualities which they are accustomed to ascribe to him, 
must be impressed ; that if not all which is, yet some- 
thing which is, must not only be a faultless model of 
what ought to be, but must be intended to be our 
guide and standard in rectifying the rest. It does 
not suffice them to believe, that what tends to good is 
to be imitated and perfected, and what tends to evil is 
to be corrected : they are anxious for some more defi- 
nite indication of the Creator's designs ; and being 
persuaded that this must somewhere be met with in 
his works, undertake the dangerous responsibility of 
picking and choosing among them in quest of it. A 
choice which except so far as directed by the general 
maxim that he intends all the good and none of the 
evil, must of necessity be perfectly arbitrary ; and if 
it leads to any conclusions other than such as can be 
deduced from that maxim, must be, exactly in that 
proportion, pernicious. 

It has never been settled by any accredited doctrine, 
what particular departments of the order of nature 
shall be reputed to be designed for our moral instruc- 
tion and guidance ; and accordingly each person's 
individual predilections, or momentary convenience, 
have decided to what parts of the divine government 


the practical conclusions that he was desirous of 
establishing, should be recommended to approval as 
being analogous. One such recommendation must be 
as fallacious as another, for it is impossible to decide 
that certain of the Creator's works are more truly 
expressions of his character than the rest ; and the 
only selection which does not lead to immoral results, 
is the selection of those which most conduce to the 
general good, in other words, of those which point to 
an end which if the entire scheme is the expression of 
a single omnipotent and consistent will, is evidently 
not the end intended by it. 

There is however one particular element in the 
construction of the world, which to minds on the 
look-out for special indication of the Creator's will, 
has appeared, not without plausibility, peculiarly fitted 
to afford them ; viz. the active impulses of human and 
other animated beings. One can imagine such persons 
arguing that when the Author of Nature only made 
circumstances, he may not have meant to indicate the 
manner in which his rational creatures were to adjust 
themselves to those circumstances ; but that when he 
implanted positive stimuli in the creatures themselves, 
stirring them up to a particular kind of action, it is 
impossible to doubt that he intended that sort of 
action to be practised by them. This reasoning, fol- 
lowed out consistently, would lead to the conclusion 
that the Deity intended, and approves, whatever 


human beings do ; since all that they do being the 
consequence of some of the impulses with which their 
Creator must have endowed them, all must equally be 
considered as done in obedience to his will. As this 
practical conclusion was shrunk from, it was necessary 
to draw a distinction, and to pronounce that not the 
whole, but only parts of the active nature of mankind 
point to a special intention of the Creator in respect to 
their conduct. These parts it seemed natural to 
suppose, must be those in which the Creator's hand 
is manifested rather than the man's own : and hence 
the frequent antithesis between man as Grod made 
him, and man as he has made himself. Since what 
is done with deliberation seems more the man's own 
act, and he is held more completely responsible for 
it than for what he does from sudden impulse, the 
considerate part of human conduct is apt to be set 
down as man's share in the business, and the incon- 
siderate as God's. The result is the vein of senti- 
ment so common in the modern world (though unknown 
to the philosophic ancients) which exalts instinct at 
the expense of reason ; an aberration rendered still more 
mischievous by the opinion commonly held in con- 
junction with it, that every, or almost every, feeling 
or impulse which acts promptly without waiting to 
ask questions, is an instinct. Thus almost every 
variety of unreflecting and uncalculating impulse 
receives a kind of consecration, except those which, 


though unreflecting at the moment, owe their origin 
to previous habits of reflection : these, being evidently 
not instinctive, do not meet with the favour accorded 
to the rest; so that all unreflecting impulses are 
invested with authority over reason, except the only 
ones which are most probably right. I do not mean, 
of course, that this mode of judgment is even pre- 
tended to be consistently carried out : life could not 
go on if it were not admitted that impulses must be 
controlled, and that reason ought to govern our actions. 
The pretension is not to drive Eeason from the helm 
but rather to bind her by articles to steer only in a 
particular way. Instinct is not to govern, but reason 
is to practise some vague and unassignable amount of 
deference to Instinct. Though the impression in 
favour of instinct as being a peculiar manifestation of 
the divine purposes, has not been cast into the form 
of a consistent general theory, it remains a standing 
prejudice, capable of being stirred up into hostility to 
reason in any case in which the dictate of the rational 
faculty has not acquired the authority of prescription. 
I shall not here enter into the difficult psychological 
question, what are, or are not instincts : the subject 
would require a volume to itself. Without touching 
upon any disputed theoretical points, it is possible to 
judge how little worthy is the instinctive part of human 
nature to be held up as its chief excellence as the part 
in which the hand of infinite goodness and wisdom is 


peculiarly visible. Allowing everything to be an 
instinct which anybody has ever asserted to be one, it 
remains true that nearly every respectable attribute of 
humanity is the result not of instinct, but of a victory 
over instinct; and that there is hardly anything 
valuable in the natural man except capacities a whole 
world of possibilities, all of them dependent upon 
eminently artificial discipline for being realized. 

It is only in a highly artificialized condition of 
human nature that the notion grew up, or, I believe, 
ever could have grown up, that goodness was natural : 
because only after a long course of artificial education 
did good sentiments become so habitual, and so 
predominant over bad, as to arise unprompted when 
occasion called for them. In the times when man- 
kind were nearer to their natural state, cultivated 
observers regarded the natural man as a sort of wild 
animal, distinguished chiefly by being craftier than 
the other beasts of the field ; and all worth of charac- 
ter was deemed the result of a sort of taming; a 
phrase often applied by the ancient philosophers to 
the appropriate discipline of human beings. The 
truth is that there is hardly a single point of excel- 
lence belonging to human character, which is not 
decidedly repugnant to the untutored feelings of 
human nature. 

If there be a virtue which more than any other we 
expect to find, and really do find, in an uncivilized 


state, it is the virtue of courage. Yet this is from 
first to last a victory achieved over one of the most 
powerful emotions of human nature. If there is any 
one feeling or attribute more natural than all others to 
human beings, it is fear ; and no greater proof can be 
given of the power of artificial discipline than the 
conquest which it has at all times and places shown 
itself capable of achieving over so mighty and so 
universal a sentiment. The widest difference no doubt 
exists between one human being and another in the 
facility or difficulty with which they acquire this 
virtue. There is hardly any department of human 
excellence in which difference of original temperament 
goes so far. But it may fairly be questioned if any 
human being is naturally courageous. Many are natu- 
rally pugnacious, or irascible, or enthusiastic, and these 
passions when strongly excited may render them in- 
sensible to fear. But take away the conflicting 
emotion, and fear reasserts its dominion : consistent 
courage is always the effect of cultivation. The 
courage which is occasionally though by no means 
generally found among tribes of savages, is as much 
the result of education as that of the Spartans or 
Eomans. In all such tribes there is a most emphatic 
direction of the public sentiment into every channel 
of expression through which honour can be paid to 
courage and cowardice held up to contempt and de- 
rision. It will perhaps be said, that as the expression 


of a sentiment implies the sentiment itself, the train- 
ing of the young to courage presupposes an originally 
courageous people. It presupposes only what all good 
customs presuppose that there must have been in- 
dividuals better than the rest, who set the customs 
going. Some individuals, who like other people had 
fears to conquer, must have had strength of mind 
and will to conquer them for themselves. These would 
obtain the influence belonging to heroes, for that which 
is at once astonishing and obviously useful never fails 
to be admired : and partly through this admiration, 
partly through the fear they themselves excite, they 
would obtain the power of legislators, and could 
establish whatever customs they pleased. 

Let us next consider a quality which forms the most 
visible, and one of the most radical of the moral dis- 
tinctions between human beings and most of the lower 
animals ; that of which the absence, more than of 
anything else, renders men bestial; the quality of 
cleanliness. Can anything be more entirely artificial ? 
Children, and the lower classes of most countries, 
seem to be actually fond of dirt : the vast majority of 
the human race are indifferent to it : whole nations 
of otherwise civilized and cultivated human beings 
tolerate it in some of its worst forms, and only a very 
small minority are consistently offended by it. Indeed 
the universal law of the subject appears to be, that un- 
cleanliness offends only those to whom it is unfamiliar, 


so that those who have lived in so artificial a state as 
to be unused to it in any form, are the sole persons 
whom it disgusts in all forms. Of all virtues this is 
the most evidently not instinctive, but a triumph over 
instinct. Assuredly neither cleanliness nor the love 
of cleanliness is natural to man, but only the capacity 
of acquiring a love of cleanliness. 

Our examples have thus far been taken from the 
personal, or as they are called by Bentham, the self 
regarding virtues, because these, if any, might be sup- 
posed to be congenial even to the uncultivated mind. 
Of the social virtues it is almost superfluous to speak ; 
so completely is it the verdict of all experience that 
selfishness is natural. By this I do not in any wise mean 
to deny that sympathy is natural also ; I believe on 
the contrary that on that important fact rests the 
possibility of any cultivation of goodness and noble- 
ness, and the hope of their ultimate entire ascendancy. 
But sympathetic characters, left uncultivated, and 
given up to their sympathetic instincts, are as selfish 
as others. The difference is in the kind Q selfishness : 
theirs is not solitary but sympathetic selfishness ; 
Pegoismc a deux, a trois, or a quatre ; and they may 
be very amiable and delightful to those with whom 
they sympathize, and grossly unjust and unfeeling to 
the rest of the world. Indeed the finer nervous orga- 
nizations which are most capable of and most require 
sympathy, have, from their fineness, so much stronger 


impulses of all sorts, that they often furnish the most 
striking examples of selfishness, though of a less repul- 
sive kind than that of colder natures. Whether there 
ever was a person in whom, apart from all teaching 
of instructors, friends or books, and from all inten- 
tional self-modelling according to an ideal, natural 
benevolence was a more powerful attribute than self- 
ishness in any of its forms, may remain undecided. 
That such cases are extremely rare, every one must 
admit, and this is enough for the argument. 

But (to speak no further of self-control for the 
benefit of others) the commonest self-control for one's 
own benefit that power of sacrificing a present desire 
to a distant object or a general purpose whicli is indis- 
pensable for making the actions of the individual ac- 
cord with his own notions of his individual good ; 
even this is most unnatural to the undisciplined 
human being : as may be seen by the long apprentice- 
ship which children serve to it ; the very imper- 
fect manner in which it is acquired by persons born 
to power, whose will is seldom resisted, and by all 
who have been early and much indulged; and the 
marked absence of the quality in savages, in soldiers 
and sailors, and in a somewhat less degree in nearly 
the whole of the poorer classes in this and many other 
countries. The principal difference, on the point 
under consideration, between this virtue and others, is 
that although, like them, it requires a course of teach- 


ing, it is more susceptible than most of them of being 
self-taught. The axiom is trite that self-control is 
only learnt by experience : and this endowment is only 
thus much nearer to being natural than the others we 
have spoken of, inasmuch as personal experience, 
without external inculcation, has a certain tendency 
to engender it. Nature does not of herself bestow 
this, any more than other virtues ; but nature often 
administers the rewards and punishments which cul- 
tivate it, and which in other cases have to be created 
artificially for the express purpose. 

Veracity might seem, of all virtues, to have the 
most plausible claim to being natural, since in the ab- 
sence of motives to the contrary, speech usually con- 
forms to, or at least does not intentionally deviate 
from, fact. Accordingly this is the virtue with which 
writers like Rousseau delight in decorating savage 
life, and setting it in advantageous contrast with the 
treachery and trickery of civilization. Unfortunately 
this is a mere fancy picture, contradicted by all the 
realities of savage life. Savages are always liars. 
They have not the faintest notion of truth as a virtue. 
They have a notion of not betraying to their hurt, as 
of not hurting in any other way, persons to whom 
they are bound by some special tie of obligation; 
their chief, their guest, perhaps, or their friend : these 
feelings of obligation being the taught morality of 
the savage state, growing out of its characteristic cir- 



cum stances. But of any point of honour respecting 
truth for truth's sake, they have not the remotest idea ; 
no more than the whole East, and the greater part of 
Europe : and in the few countries which are sufficiently 
improved to have such a point of honour, it is con- 
fined to a small minority, who alone, under any cir- 
cumstances of real temptation practise it. 

From the general use of the expression " natural 
justice," it must be presumed that justice is a virtue 
generally thought to be directly implanted by nature. 
I believe, however, that the sentiment of justice is 
entirely of artificial origin ; the idea of natural justice 
not preceding but following that of conventional 
justice. The farther we look back into the early 
modes of thinking of the human race, whether we 
consider ancient times (including those of the Old 
Testament) or the portions of mankind who are still 
in no more advanced a condition than that of ancient 
times, the more completely do we find men's notions 
of justice defined and bounded by the express ap- 
pointment of law. A man's just rights, meant the 
rights which the law gave him : a just man, was he 
who never infringed, nor sought to infringe, the legal 
property or other legal rights of others. The notion 
of a higher justice, to which laws themselves are 
amenable, and by which the conscience is bound with- 
out a positive prescription of law, is a later extension 
of the idea, suggested by, and following the analogy 


of, legal justice, to which it maintains a parallel 
direction through all the shades and varieties of the 
sentiment, and from which it borrows nearly the 
whole of its phraseology. The very words Justus and 
justitia are derived from jus, law. Courts of justice, 
administration of justice, always mean the tribunals. 

If it be said, that there must be the germs of all these 
virtues in human nature, otherwise mankind would 
be incapable of acquiring them, I am ready, with a 
certain amount of explanation, to admit the fact. 
But the weeds that dispute the ground with these 
beneficent germs, are themselves not germs but rankly 
luxuriant growths, and would, in all but some one 
case in a thousand, entirely stifle and destroy the 
former, were it not so strongly the interest of man- 
kind to cherish the good germs in one another, that 
they always do so, in as far as their degree of intelligence 
(in this as in other respects still very imperfect) allows. 
It is through such fostering, commenced early, and 
not counteracted by unfavourable influences, that, in 
some happily circumstanced specimens of the human 
race, the most elevated sentiments of which humanity 
is capable become a second nature, stronger than the 
first, and not so much subduing the original nature as 
merging it into itself. Even those gifted organiza- 
tions which have attained the like excellence by self- 
culture, owe it essentially to the same cause ; for 
what self-culture would be possible without aid from 

E 2 


the general sentiment of mankind delivered through 
books, and from the contemplation of exalted characters 
real or ideal ? This artificially created . or at least 
artificially perfected nature of the best and noblest 
human beings, is the only nature which it is ever com- 
mendable to follow. It is almost superfluous to say 
that even this cannot be erected into a standard of con- 
duct, since it is itself the fruit of a training and culture 
the choice of which, if rational and not accidental, must 
have been determined by a standard already chosen. 

This brief survey is amply sufficient to prove that 
the duty of man is the same in respect to his own 
nature as in respect to the nature of all other things, 
namely not to follow but to amend it. Some people 
however who do not attempt to deny that instinct 
ought to be subordinate to reason, pay deference to 
nature so far as to maintain that every natural incli- 
nation must have some sphere of action granted to it, 
some opening left for its gratification. All natural 
wishes, they say, must have been implanted for a 
purpose : and this argument is carried so far, that we 
often hear it maintained that every wish, which it is 
supposed to be natural to entertain, must have a 
corresponding provision in the order of the universe 
for its gratification : insomuch (for instance) that the 
desire of an indefinite prolongation of existence, is 
believed by many to be in itself a sufficient proof of 
the reality of a future life. 


I conceive that there is a radical absurdity in all 
these attempts to discover, in detail, what are the 
designs of Providence, in order when they are dis- 
covered to help Providence in bringing them about. 
Those who argue, from particular indications, that 
Providence intends this or that, either believe that 
the Creator can do all that he will or that he cannot. 
If the first supposition is adopted if Providence is 
omnipotent, Providence intends whatever happens, 
and the fact of its happening proves that Providence 
intended it. If so, everything which a human being 
can do, is predestined by Providence and is a fulfil- 
ment of its designs. But if as is the more religious 
theory, Providence intends not all which happens, 
but only what is good, then indeed man has it in his 
power, by his voluntary actions, to aid the intentions 
of Providence ; but he can only learn those intentions 
by considering what tends to promote the general 
good, and not what man has a natural inclination to ; 
for, limited as, on this showing, the divine power must 
be, by inscrutable but insurmountable obstacles, who 
knows that man could have been created without 
desires which never are to be, and even which never 
ought to be, fulfilled ? The inclinations with which 
man has been endowed, as well as any of the other con- 
trivances which we observe in Nature, may be the 
expression not of the divine will, but of the fetters 
which impede its free action ; and to take hints from 


these for the guidance of our own conduct may be 
falling into a trap laid by the enemy. The assump- 
tion that everything which infinite goodness can 
desire, actually comes to pass in this universe, or at 
least that we must never say or suppose that it does 
not, is worthy only of those whose slavish fears make 
them offer the homage of lies to a Being who, they 
profess to think, is incapable of being deceived and 
holds all falsehood in abomination. 

With regard to this particular hypothesis, that all 
natural impulses, all propensities sufficiently universal 
and sufficiently spontaneous to be capable of passing 
for instincts, must exist for good ends, and ought to 
be only regulated, not repressed ; this is of course 
true of the majority of them, for the species could not 
have continued to exist unless most of its inclinations 
had been directed to things needful or useful for its 
preservation. But unless the instincts can be reduced 
to a very small number indeed, it must be allowed 
that we have also bad instincts which it should be 
the aim of education not simply to regulate but to 
extirpate, or rather (what can be done even to an 
instinct) to starve them by disuse. Those who are 
inclined to multiply the number of instincts, usually 
include among them one which they call destructive- 
ness : an instinct to destroy for destruction's sake. 
I can conceive no good reason for preserving this, no 
more than another propensity which if not an instinct 


is very like one, what has been called the instinct of 
domination ; a delight in exercising despotism, in 
holding other beings in subjection to our will. The 
man who takes pleasure in the mere exertion of 
authority, apart from the purpose for which it is to 
be employed, is the last person in whose hands one 
would willingly entrust it. Again, there are persons 
who are cruel by character, or, as the phrase is, 
naturally cruel ; who have a real pleasure in inflicting, 
or seeing the infliction of pain. This kind of cruelty 
is not mere hardheartedness, absence of pity or re- 
morse ; it is a positive thing ; a particular kind of 
voluptuous excitement. The East, and Southern 
Europe, have afforded, and probably still afford, 
abundant examples of this hateful propensity. I sup- 
pose it will be granted that this is not one of the natural 
inclinations which it would be wrong to suppress. 
The only question would be whether it is not a duty 
to suppress the man himself along with it. 

But even if it were true that every one of the 
elementary impulses of human nature has its good side, 
and may by a sufficient amount of artificial training 
be made more useful than hurtful ; how little would 
this amount to, when it must in any case be admitted 
that without such training all of them, even those 
which are necessary to our preservation, would fill the 
world with misery, making human life an exaggerated 
likeness of the odious scene of violence and tyranny 


which is exhibited by the rest of the animal kingdom, 
except in so far as tamed and disciplined by man. 
There, indeed, those who flatter themselves with the 
notion of reading the purposes of the Creator in his 
works, ought in consistency to have seen grounds for 
inferences from which they have shrunk. If there 
are any marks at all of special design in creation, one 
of the things most evidently designed is that a large 
proportion of all animals should pass their existence 
in tormenting and devouring other animals. They 
have been lavishly fitted out with the instruments 
necessary for that purpose ; their strongest instincts 
impel them to it, and many of them seem to have been 
constructed incapable of supporting themselves by any 
other food. If a tenth part of the pains which have 
been expended in finding benevolent adaptations in 
all nature, had been employed in collecting evidence 
to blacken the character of the Creator, what scope for 
comment would not have been found in the entire 
existence of the lower animals, divided, with scarcely 
an exception, into devourers and devoured, and a prey 
to a thousand ills from which they are denied the 
faculties necessary for protecting themselves ! If we 
are not obliged to believe the animal creation to be 
the work of a demon, it is because we need not sup- 
pose it to have been made by a Being of infinite 
power. But if imitation of the Creator's will as re- 
vealed in nature, were applied as a rule of action in 


this case, the most atrocious enormities of the worst 
men would be more than justified by the apparent 
intention of Providence that throughout all animated 
nature the strong should prey upon the weak. 

The preceding observations are far from having 
exhausted the almost infinite variety of modes and 
occasions in which the idea of conformity to nature 
is introduced as an element into the ethical appre- 
ciation of actions and dispositions. The same favour- 
able prejudgment follows the word nature through 
the numerous acceptations, in which it is employed as 
a distinctive term for certain parts of the constitution 
of humanity as contrasted with other parts. We 
have hitherto confined ourselves to one of these accep- 
tations, in which it stands as a general designation for 
those parts of our mental and moral constitution which 
are supposed to be innate, in contradistinction to those 
which are acquired ; as when nature is contrasted with 
education; or when a savage state, without laws, arts, 
or knowledge, is called a state of nature ; or when the 
question is asked whether benevolence, or the moral 
sentiment, is natural or acquired ; or whether some 
persons are poets or orators by nature and others not. 
But in another and a more lax sense, any manifesta- 
tions by human beings are often termed natural, when 
it is merely intended to say that they are not studied 
or designedly assumed in the particular case ; as when 
a person is said to move or speak with natural grace ; 


or when it is said that a person's natural manner or 
character is so and so ; meaning that it is so when he 
does not attempt to control or disguise it. In a still 
looser acceptation, a person is said to be naturally, 
that which he was until some special cause had acted 
upon him, or which it is supposed he would be if some 
such cause were withdrawn. Thus a person is said 
to be naturally dull, but to have made himself intel- 
ligent by study and perseverance ; to be naturally 
cheerful, but soured by misfortune ; naturally ambi- 
tious, but kept down by want of opportunity. Finally, 
the word natural, applied to feelings or conduct, often 
seems to mean no more than that they are such as are 
ordinarily found in human beings ; as when it is said 
that a person acted, on some particular occasion, as it 
was natural to do ; or that to be affected in a parti- 
cular way by some sight, or sound, or thought, or 
incident in life, is perfectly natural. 

In all these senses of the term, the quality called na- 
tural is very often confessedly a worse quality than the 
one contrasted with it ; but whenever its being so is 
not too obvious to be questioned, the idea seems to be 
entertained that by describing it as natural, something 
has been said amounting to a considerable presump- 
tion in its favour. For my part I can perceive only 
one sense in which nature, or naturalness, in a human 
being, are really terms of praise ; and then the praise 
is only negative : namely when used to denote the 


absence of affectation. Affectation may be defined, the 
effort to appear what one is not, when the motive 
or the occasion is not such as either to excuse the 
attempt, or to stamp ifc with the more odious name of 
hypocrisy. It must be. added that the deception is 
often attempted to be practised on the deceiver him- 
self as well as on others ; he imitates the external 
signs of qualities which he would like to have, in 
hopes to persuade himself that he has them. Whether 
in the form of deception or of self-deception, or of 
something hovering between the two, affectation is 
very rightly accounted a reproach, and naturalness, 
understood as the reverse of affectation, a merit. But 
a more proper term by which to express this estimable 
quality would be sincerity ; a term which has fallen 
from its original elevated meaning, and popularly de- 
notes only a subordinate branch of the cardinal virtue 
it once designated as a whole. 

Sometimes also, in cases where the term affectation 
would be inappropriate, since the conduct or demeanour 
spoken of is really praiseworthy, people say in dis- 
paragement of the person concerned, that such conduct 
or demeanour is not natural to him ; and make uncom- 
plimentary comparisons between him and some other 
person, to whom it is natural : meaning that what in 
the one seemed excellent was the effect of temporary 
excitement, or of a great victory over himself, while 
in the other it is the result to be expected from the 


habitual character. This mode of speech is not open 
to censure, since nature is here simply a term for 
the person's ordinary disposition, and if he is praised 
it is not for being natural, but for being naturally 

Conformity to nature, has no connection whatever 
with right and wrong. The idea can never be fitly 
introduced into ethical discussions at all, except, oc- 
casionally and partially, into the question of degrees 
of culpability. To illustrate this point, let us con- 
sider the phrase by which the greatest intensity of 
condemnatory feeling is conveyed in connection with 
the idea of nature the word unnatural. That a 
thing is unnatural, in any precise meaning which can 
be attached to the word, is no argument for its being 
blamable ; since the most criminal actions are to a 
being like man, not more unnatural than most of the 
virtues. The acquisition of virtue has in all ages 
been accounted a work of labour and difficulty, while 
the dcscensus Averni on the contrary is of proverbial 
facility : and it assuredly requires in most persons a 
greater conquest over a greater number of natural in- 
clinations bo become eminently virtuous than tran- 
scendently vicious. But if an action, or an inclination, 
has been decided on other grounds to be blamable, 
it may be a circumstance in aggravation that it is 
unnatural, that is, repugnant to some strong feeling 
usually found in human beings ; since the bad pro- 


pensity, whatever it be, has afforded evidence of being 
both strong and deeply rooted, by having overcome 
that repugnance. This presumption of course fails if 
the individual never had the repugnance : and the 
argument, therefore, is not fit to be urged unless the 
feeling which is violated by the act, is not only justi- 
fiable and reasonable, bat is one which it is blamable to 
be without. 

The corresponding plea in extenuation of a culpable 
act because it was natural, or because it was prompted 
by a natural feeling, never, I think, ought to be 
admitted. There is hardly a bad action ever perpe- 
trated which is not perfectly natural, and the motives 
to which are not perfectly natural feelings. In the 
eye of reason, therefore, this is no excuse, but it is 
quite " natural " that it should be so in the eyes of the 
multitude ; because the meaning of the expression is, 
that they have a fellow feeling with the offender. 
When they say that something which they cannot help 
admitting to be blamable, is nevertheless natural, they 
mean that they can imagine the possibility of their 
being themselves tempted to commit it. Most people 
have a considerable amount of indulgence towards all 
acts of which they feel a possible source within them- 
selves, reserving their rigour for those which, though 
perhaps really less bad, they cannot in any way under- 
stand how it is possible to commit. If an action 
convinces them (which it oftens does on very inadequate 


grounds) that the person who does it must be a being 
totally unlike themselves, they are seldom particular 
in examining the precise degree of blame due to it, or 
even if blame is properly due to it at all. They 
measure the degree of guilt by the strength of their 
antipathy ; and hence differences of opinion, and even 
differences of taste, have been objects of as intense 
moral abhorrence as the most atrocious crimes. 

It will be useful to sum up in a few words the 
leading conclusions of this Essay. 

The word Nature has two principal meanings: it 
either denotes the entire system of things, with the 
aggregate of all their properties, or it denotes things 
as they would be, apart from human intervention. 

In the first of these senses, the doctrine that man 
ought to follow nature is unmeaning ; since man has 
no power to do anything else than follow nature; all 
his actions are done through, and in obedience to, 
some one or many of nature's physical or mental 

In the other sense of the term, the doctrine that 
man ought to follow nature, or in other words, ought 
to make the spontaneous course of things the model 
of his voluntary actions, is equally irrational and im- 

Irrational, because all human action whatever, con- 
sists in altering, and all useful action in improving, 
the spontaneous course of nature : 



Immoral, because the course of natural phenomena 
being replete with everything which when committed 
byTrornan beings is most worthy of abhorrence, any 
one who endeavoured in his actions to imitate the 
natural course of things would be universally seen 
and acknowledged to be the wickedest of men. 

The scheme of Nature regarded in its whole extent, 
cannot have had, for its sole or even principal object, 
the good of human or other sentient beings. What 
good it brings to them, is mostly the result of their 
own exertions. Whatsoever, in nature, gives indica- 
tion of beneficent design, proves this beneficence to 
be armed only with limited power ; and the duty of 
man is to co-operate with the beneficent powers, not 
by imitating but by perpetually striving to amend the 
course of nature and bringing that part of it over 
which we can exercise control, more nearly into 
conformity with a high standard of justice and 





TT has sometimes been remarked how much has been 

written, both by friends and enemies, concerning 

the truth of religion, and how little, at least in the 

O ' ' 

way of discussion or controversy, concerning its use- 
fulness. This, however, might have been expected ; 
for the truth, in matters which so deeply affect us, is 
our first concernment. If religion, or any particular 
form of it, is true, its usefulness follows without other 
proof. If to know authentically in what order of 
things, under what government of the universe it is 
our destiny to live, were not useful, it is difficult to 
imagine what could be considered so. Whether a 
person is in a pleasant or in an unpleasant place, a 
palace or a prison, it cannot be otherwise than useful 
to him to know where he is. So long, therefore, as 
men accepted the teachings of their religion as posi- 
tive facts, no more a matter of doubt than their own 
existence or the existence of the objects around them, 


to ask the use of believing it could not possibly occur 
to them. The utility of religion did not need to be 
asserted until the arguments for its truth had in a 
great measure ceased to convince. People must either 
have ceased to believe, or have ceased to rely on the 
belief of others, before they could take that inferior 
ground of defence without a consciousness of lowering 
what they were endeavouring to raise. An argument 
for the utility of religion is an appeal to unbelievers, 
to induce them to practise a well meant hypocrisy, or 
to semi-believers to make them avert their eyes from 
what might possibly shake their unstable belief, or 
finally to persons in general to abstain from express- 
ing any doubts they may feel, since a fabric of im- 
mense importance to mankind is so insecure at its 
foundations, that men must hold their breath in its 
neighbourhood for fear of blowing it down. 

In the present period of history, however, we seem 
to have arrived at a time when, among the arguments 
for and against religion, those which relate to its use- 
fulness assume an important place. We are in an 
age of weak beliefs, and in which such belief as men 
have is much more determined by their wish to be- 
lieve than by any mental appreciation of evidence. 
The wish to believe does not arise only from selfish 
but often from the most disinterested feelings and 
though it cannot produce the unwavering and perfect 
reliance which once existed, it fences round all that 


remains of the impressions of early education ; it often 
causes direct misgivings to fade away by disuse ; and 
above all, it induces people to continue laying out 
their lives according to doctrines which have lost part 
of their hold on the mind, and to maintain towards 
the world the same, or a rather more demonstrative 
attitude of belief, than they thought it necessary to 
exhibit when their personal conviction was more 

If religious belief be indeed so necessary to man- 
kind, as we are continually assured that it is, there is 
great reason to lament, that the intellectual grounds 
of it should require to be backed by moral bribery or 
subornation of the understanding. Such a state of 
things is most uncomfortable even for those who may, 
without actual insincerity, describe themselves as be- 
lievers ; and still worse as regards those who, having 
consciously ceased to find the evidences of religion 
convincing, are withheld from saying so lest they 
should aid in doing an irreparable injury to mankind. 
It is a most painful position to a conscientious and 
cultivated mind, to be drawn in contrary directions 
by the two noblest of all objects of pursuit, truth, and 
the general good. Such a conflict must inevitably 
produce a growing indifference to one or other of 
these objects, most probably to both. Many who 
could render giant's service both to truth and to 
mankind if they believed that they could serve the 


one without loss to the other, are either totally para- 
lysed, or led to confine their exertions to matters of 
minor detail, by the apprehension that any real free- 
dom of speculation, or any considerable strengthening 
or enlargement of the thinking faculties of mankind 
at large, might, by making them unbelievers, be the 
surest way to render them vicious and miserable. 
Many, again, having observed in others or experienced 
in themselves elevated feelings which they imagine 
incapable of emanating from any other source than 
religion, have an honest aversion to anything tending, 
as they think, to dry up the fountain of such feelings. 
They, therefore, either dislike and disparage all philo- 
sophy, or addict themselves with intolerant zeal to 
those forms of it in which intuition usurps the place 
of evidence, and internal feeling is made the test of 
objective truth. The whole of the prevalent meta- 
physics of the present century is one tissue of 
suborned evidence in favour of religion; often of 
Deism only, but in any case involving a misapplica- 
tion of noble impulses and speculative capacities., 
among the most deplorable of those wretched wastes 
of human faculties which make us wonder that enough 
is left to keep mankind progressive, at however slow 
a pace. It is time to consider, more impartially and 
therefore more deliberately than is usually done, 
whether all this straining to prop up beliefs which 
require so great an expense of intellectual toil and 


ingenuity to keep them standing, yields any sufficient 
return in human well being ; and whether that end 
would not be better served by a frank recognition 
that certain subjects are inaccessible to our faculties, 
and by the application of the same mental powers to 
the strengthening and enlargement of those other 
sources of virtue and happiness which stand in no 
need of the support or sanction of supernatural beliefs 
and inducements. 

Neither, on the other hand, can the difficulties of 
the question be so promptly disposed of, as sceptical 
philosophers are sometimes inclined to believe. It is 
not enough to aver, in general terms, that there 
never can be any conflict between truth and utility ; 
that if religion be false, nothing but good can be the 
consequence of rejecting it. For, though the know- 
ledge of every positive truth is an useful acquisition, 
this doctrine cannot without reservation be applied to 
negative truth. "When the only truth ascertainable 
is that nothing can be known, we do not, by this 
knowledge, gain any new fact by which to guide 
ourselves ; we are, at best, only disabused of our 
trust in some former guide-mark, which, though 
itself fallacious, may have pointed in the same 
direction with the best indications we have, and if it 
happens to be more conspicuous and legible, may 
have kept us right when they might have been over- 
looked. It is, in short, perfectly conceivable that 


religion may be morally useful without being intel- 
lectually sustainable : and it would be a proof of 
great prejudice in any unbeliever to deny, tbat there 
have been ages, and that there are still both nations 
and individuals, with regard to whom this is actually 
the case. Whether it is the case generally, and with 
reference to the future, it is the object of this paper 
to examine. We propose to inquire whether the 
belief in religion, considered as a mere persuasion, 
apart from the question of its truth, is really indis- 
pensable to the temporal welfare of mankind ; whether 
the usefulness of the belief is intrinsic and universal, 
or local, temporary, and, in some sense, accidental; 
and whether the benefits which it yields might not 
be obtained otherwise, without the very large alloy 
of evil, by which, even in the best form of the belief, 
those benefits are qualified. 

With the arguments on one side of the question 
we all are familiar : religious writers have not 
neglected to celebrate to the utmost the advantages 
both of religion in general and of their own religious 
faith in particular. But those who have held the 
contrary opinion have generally contented them- 
selves with insisting on the more obvious and 
flagrant of the positive evils which have been engen- 
dered by past and present forms of religious belief. 
And, in truth, mankind have been so unremittingly 
occupied in doing evil to one another in the name 


of religion, from the sacrifice of Iphigenia to the 
Dragonnades of Louis XIV. (not to descend lower), 
that for any immediate purpose there was little need 
to seek arguments further off. These odious con- 
sequences, however, do not belong to religion in 
itself, but to particular forms of it, and afford no 
argument against the usefulness of any religions 
except those by which such enormities are encou- 
raged. Moreover, the worst of these evils are already 
in a great measure extirpated from the more im- 
proved forms of religion; and as mankind advance 
in ideas and in feelings, this process of extirpation 
continually goes on : the immoral, or otherwise mis- 
chievous consequences which have been drawn from 
religion, are, one by one, abandoned, and, after having 
been long fought for as of its very essence, are dis- 
covered to be easily separable from it. These mis- 
chiefs, indeed, after they are past, though no longer 
arguments against religion, remain valid as large 
abatements from its beneficial influence, by showing 
that some of the greatest improvements ever made 
in the moral sentiments of mankind have taken place 
without it and in spite of it, and that what we are 
taught to regard as the chief of all improving influ- 
ences, has in practice fallen so far short of such a 
character, that one of the hardest burdens laid upon 
the other good influences of human nature has been 
that of improving religion itself. The improvement, 


however, has taken place ; it is still proceeding, and 
for the sake of fairness it should be assumed to be 
complete. We ought to suppose religion to have 
accepted the best human morality which reason and 
goodness can work out, from philosophical, Christian, 
or any other elements. When it has thus freed itself 
from the pernicious consequences which result from 
its identification with any bad moral doctrine, the 
ground is clear for considering whether its useful 
properties are exclusively inherent in it, or their 
benefits can be obtained without it. 

This essential portion of the inquiry into the tem- 
poral usefulness of religion, is the subject of the present 
Essay. It is a part which has been little treated of by 
sceptical writers. The only direct discussion of it 
with which I am acquainted, is in a short treatise, 
understood to have been partly compiled from manu- 
scripts of Mr. Bentham,* and abounding in just and 
profound views ; but which, as it appears to me, 
presses many parts of the argument too hard. This 
treatise, and the incidental remarks scattered through 
the writings of M. Comte, are the only sources known 
to me from which anything very pertinent to the 
subject can be made available for the sceptical side of 
the argument. I shall use both of them freely in the 
sequel of the present discourse. 

* " Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal 
Happiness of Mankind." By Philip Beauchamp. 


The inquiry divides itself into two parts, cor- 
responding to the double aspect of the subject; its 
social, and its individual aspect. What does religion 
do for society, and what for the individual? What 
amount of benefit to social interests, in the ordinary 
sense of the phrase, arises from religious belief? And 
what influence has it in improving and ennobling indi- 
vidual human nature ? 

The first question is interesting to everybody ; the 
latter only to the best ; but to them it is, if there be 
any difference, the more important of the two. We 
shall begin with the former, as being that which best 
admits of being easily brought to a precise issue. 

To speak first, then, of religious belief as an instru- 
ment of social good. We must commence by drawing 
a distinction most commonly overlooked. It is usual 
to credit religion as such with the whole of the power 
inherent in any system of moral duties inculcated by 
education and enforced by opinion. Undoubtedly 
mankind would be in a deplorable state if no prin- 
ciples or precepts of justice, veracity, beneficence, 
were taught publicly or privately, and if these virtues 
were not encouraged, and the opposite vices repressed, 
by the praise and blame, the favourable and unfavour- 
able sentiments, of mankind. And since nearly every- 
thing of this sort which does take place, takes place in 
the name of religion ; since almost all who are taught 
any morality whatever, have it taught to them as 
religion, and inculcated on them through life prm- 


cipally in that character ; the effect which the teaching 
produces as teaching, it is supposed to produce as reli- 
gious teaching, and religion receives the credit of all 
the influence in human affairs which belongs to any 
generally accepted system of rules for the guidance 
and government of human life. 

Few persons have sufficiently considered how great 
an influence this is ; what vast efficacy belongs natu- 
rally to any doctrine received with tolerable unanimity 
as true, and impressed on the mind from the earliest 
childhood as duty. A little reflection will, I think, 
lead us to the conclusion that it is this which is the 
great moral power in human affairs, and that religion 
only seems so powerful because this mighty power 
has been under its command. 

Consider first, the enormous influence of authority on 
the human mind. I am now speaking of involuntary 
influence; effect on men's conviction, on their per- 
suasion, on their involuntary sentiments. Authority 
is the evidence on which the mass of mankind believe 
everything which they are said to know, except facts 
of which their own senses have taken cognizance. It 
is the evidence on which even the wisest receive all 
those truths of science, or facts in history or in life, 
of which they have not personally examined the 
proofs. Over the immense majority of human beings, 
the general concurrence of mankind, in any matter of 
opinion, is all powerful. Whatever is thus certified to 


them, they believe with a fulness of assurance which 
they do not accord even to the evidence of their 
senses when the general opinion of mankind stands 
in opposition to it. When, therefore, any rule of life 
and duty, whether grounded or not on religion, has 
conspicuously received the general assent, it obtains a 
hold on the belief of every individual, stronger than 
it would have even if he had arrived at it by the in- 
herent force of his own understanding. If Novalis 
could say, not without a real meaning, " My belief 
has gained infinitely to me from the moment when 
one other human being has begun to believe the 
same," how much more when it is not one other 
person, but all the human beings whom one knows of. 
Some may urge it as an objection, that no scheme of 
morality has this universal assent, and that none, 
therefore, can be indebted to this source for whatever 
power it possesses over the mind. So far as relates to 
the present age, the assertion is true, and strengthens 
the argument which it might at first seem to contro- 
vert ; for exactly in proportion as the received systems 
of belief have been contested, and it has become 
known that they have many dissentients, their hold 
on the general belief has been loosened, and their 
practical influence on conduct has declined : and since 
this has happened to them notwithstanding the re- 
ligious sanction which attached to them, there can be 
no stronger evidence that they were powerful not as 


religion, but as beliefs generally accepted by mankind. 
To find people who believe their religion as a person 
believes that fire will burn his hand when thrust into 
it, we must seek them in those Oriental countries 
where Europeans do not yet predominate, or in the 
European world when it was still universally Catholic. 
Men often disobeyed their religion in those times, 
because their human passions and appetites were too 
strong for it, or because the religion itself afforded 
means of indulgence to breaches of its obligations; 
but though they disobeyed, they, for the most part, 
did not doubt. There was in those days an absolute 
and unquestioning completeness of belief, never since 
general in Europe. 

Such being the empire exercised over mankind by 
simple authority, the mere belief and testimony of 
their fellow creatures ; consider next how tremendous 
is the power of education; how unspeakable is the 
effect of bringing people up from infancy in a belief, 
and in habits founded on it. Consider also that in 
all countries, and from the earliest ages down to the 
present, not merely those who are called, in a re- 
stricted sense of the term, the educated, but all or 
nearly all who have been brought up by parents, or 
by any one interested in them, have been taught 
from their earliest years some kind of religious belief, 
and some precepts as the commands of the heavenly 
powers to them and to mankind. And as it cannot 


be imagined that the commands of God are to young 
children anything more than the commands of their 
parents, it is reasonable to think that any system of 
social duty which mankind might adopt, even though 
divorced from religion, would have the same advan- 
tage of being inculcated from childhood, and would 

O o 

have it hereafter much more perfectly than any doc- 
trine has it at present, society being far more disposed 
than formerly to take pains for the moral tuition of 
those numerous classes whose education it has hitherto 
left very much to chance. Now it is especially cha- 
racteristic of the impressions of early education, that 
they possess what it is so much more difficult for 
later convictions to obtain command over the feel- 
ings. We see daily how powerful a hold these first 
impressions retain over the feelings even of those, 
who have given up the opinions which they were 
early taught. "While on the other hand, it is 
only persons of a much higher degree of natural 
sensibility and intellect combined than it is at all 
common to meet with, whose feelings entwine them- 
selves with anything like the same force round 
opinions which they have adopted from their own in- 
vestigations later in life ; and even when they do, we 
may say with truth that it is because the strong sense 
of moral duty, the sincerity, courage and self-devotion 
which enabled them to do so, were themselves the 
fruits of early impressions. 


The power of education is almost boundless : there 
is not one natural inclination which it is not strong 
enough to coerce, and, if needful, to destroy by disuse. 
In the greatest recorded victory which education has 
ever achieved over a whole host of natural inclinations 
in an entire people the maintenance through cen- 
turies of the institutions of Lycurgus, it was very 
little, if even at all, indebted to religion : for the Gods 
of the Spartans were the same as those of other Greek 
states ; and though, no doubt, every state of Greece 
believed that its particular polity had at its first 
establishment, some sort of divine sanction (mostly 
that of the Delphian oracle), there was seldom any 
difficulty in obtaining the same or an equally power- 
ful sanction for a change. It was not religion which 
formed the strength of the Spartan institutions : the 
root of the system was devotion to Sparta, to the ideal 
of the country or State : which transformed into ideal 
devotion to a greater country, the world, would be 
equal to that and far nobler achievements. Among 
the Greeks generally, social morality was extremely 
independent of religion. The inverse relation was 
rather that which existed between them ; the worship 
of the Gods was inculcated chiefly as a social duty, in- 
asmuch as if they were neglected or insulted, it was 
believed that their displeasure would fall not more upon 
the offending individual than upon the state or com- 
munity which bred and tolerated him. Such moral 


teaching as existed in Greece had very little to do 
with religion. The Gods were not supposed to con- 
cern themselves much with men's conduct to one 
another, except when men had contrived to make the 
Grods themselves an interested party, by placing an 
assertion or an engagement under the sanction of a 
solemn appeal to them, by oath or vow. I grant that 
the sophists and philosophers, and even popular 
orators, did their best to press religion into the service 
of their special objects, and to make it be thought 
that the sentiments of whatever kind, which they were 
engaged in inculcating, were particularly acceptable 
to the Gods, but this never seems the primary con- 
sideration in any case save those of direct offence to the 
dignity of the Gods themselves. For the enforcement 
of human moralities secular inducements were almost 
exclusively relied on. The case of Greece is, I believe, 
the only one in which any teaching, other than 
religious, has had the unspeakable advantage of form- 
ing the basis of education : and though much may be 
said against the quality of some part of the teaching, 
very little can be said against its effectiveness. The 
most memorable example of the power of education 
over conduct, is afforded (as I have just remarked) by 
this exceptional case ; constituting a strong presump- 
tion that in other cases, early religious teaching has 
owed its power over mankind rather to its being early 
than to its being religious. 



We have now considered two powers, that of au- 
thority, and that of early education, which operate 
through men's involuntary beliefs, feelings and desires, 
and which religion has hitherto held as its almost 
exclusive appanage. Let us now consider a third 
power which operates directly on their actions, 
whether their involuntary sentiments are carried with 
it or not. This is the power of public opinion ; of 
the praise and blame, the favour and disfavour, of 
their fellow creatures ; and is a source of strength 
inherent in any system of moral belief which is 
generally adopted, whether connected with religion or 

Men are so much accustomed to give to the motives 
that decide their actions, more flattering names than 
justly belong to them, that they are generally quite 
unconscious how much those parts of their conduct 
which they most pride themselves on (as well as some 
which they are ashamed of), are determined by the 
motive of public opinion. Of course public opinion 
for the most part enjoins the same things which are 
enjoined by the received social morality ; that morality 
being, in truth, the summary of the conduct which 
each one of the multitude, whether he himself ob- 
serves it with any strictness or not, desires that others 
should observe towards him. People are therefore 
easily able to flatter themselves that they are acting 
from the motive of conscience when they are doing 


in obedience to the inferior motive, things which their 
conscience approves. We continually see how great 
is the power of opinion in opposition to conscience ; 
how men " follow a multitude to do evil ;" how often 
opinion induces them to do what their conscience dis- 
approves, and still oftener prevents them from doing 
what it commands. But when the motive of public 
opinion acts in the same direction with conscience, 
which, since it has usually itself made the conscience 
in the first instance, it for the most part naturally 
does ; it is then, of all motives which operate on the 
bulk of mankind, the most overpowering. 

The names of all the strongest passions (except the 
merely animal ones) manifested by human nature, are 
each of them a name for some one part only of the 
motive derived from what I here call public opinion. 
The love of glory ; the love of praise ; the love of 
admiration ; the love of respect and deference ; even 
the love of sympathy, are portions of its attractive 
power. Vanity is a vituperative name for its attrac- 
tive influence generally, when considered excessive in 
degree. The fear of shame, the dread of ill repute or 
of being disliked or hated, are the direct and simple 
forms of its deterring power. But the deterring force 
of the unfavourable sentiments of mankind does not 
consist solely in the painfulness of knowing oneself to 
be the object of those sentiments; it includes all the 
penalties which they can inflict : exclusion from social 



intercourse and from the innumerable good offices 
which human beings require from one another; the 
forfeiture of all that is called success in life ; often 
the great diminution or total loss of means of sub- 
sistence ; positive ill offices of various kinds, sufficient 
to render life miserable, and reaching in some states 
of society as far as actual persecution to death. And 
again the attractive, or impelling influence of public 
opinion, includes the whole range of what is com- 
monly meant by ambition : for, except in times of 
lawless military violence, the objects of social 
ambition can only be attained by means of the good 
opinion and favourable disposition of our fellow- 
creatures ; nor, in nine cases out of ten, would those 
objects be even desired, were it not for the power 
they confer over the sentiments of mankind. Even 
the pleasure of self-approbation, in the great majority, 
is mainly dependent on the opinion of others. Such 
is the involuntary influence of authority on ordinary 
minds, that persons must be of a better than ordinary 
mould to be capable of a full assurance that they are 
in the right, when the world, that is, when their 
world, thinks them wrong : nor is there, to most 
men, any proof so demonstrative of their own virtue 
or talent as that people in general seem to believe in 
it. Through all departments of human affairs, regard 
for the sentiments of our fellow-creatures is in one 
shape or other, in nearly all characters, the pervading 


motive. And we ought to note that this motive is 
naturally strongest in the most sensitive natures, 
which are the most promising material for the for- 
mation of great virtues. How far its power reaches 
is known by too familiar experience to require either 
proof or illustration here. When once the means of 
living have been obtained, the far greater part of the 
remaining labour and effort which takes place on the 
earth, has for its object to acquire the respect or the 
favourable regard of mankind; to be looked up to, 
or at all events, not to be looked down upon by them. 
The industrial and commercial activity which advance 
civilization, the frivolity, prodigality, and selfish thirst 
of aggrandizement which retard it, flow equally from 
that source. While as an instance of the power 
exercised by the terrors derived from public opinion, 
we know how many murders have been committed 
merely to remove a witness who knew and was likely 
to disclose some secret that would bring disgrace upon 
his murderer. 

Any one who fairly and impartially considers the 
subject, will see reason to believe that those great 
effects on human conduct, which are commonly 
ascribed to motives derived directly from religion, 
have mostly for their proximate cause the influence 
of human opinion. Eeligion has been powerful not 
by its intrinsic force, but because it has wielded that 
additional and more mighty power. The effect of 


religion has been immense in giving a direction to 
public opinion : which has, in many most important 
respects, been wholly determined by it. But without 
the sanctions superadded by public opinion, its own 
proper sanctions have never, save in exceptional cha- 
racters, or in peculiar moods of mind, exercised a very 
potent influence, after the times had gone by, in 
which divine agency was supposed habitually to 
employ temporal rewards and punishments. When 
a man firmly believed that if he violated the sacred- 
ness of a particular sanctuary he would be struck 
dead on the spot, or smitten suddenly with a mortal 
disease, he doubtless took care not to incur the 
penalty : but when any one had had the courage to 
defy the danger, and escaped with impunity, the 
spell was broken. If ever any people were taught 
that they were under a divine government, and that 
unfaithfulness to their religion and law would be 
visited from above with temporal chastisements, the 
Jews were so. Yet their history was a mere succession 
of lapses into Paganism. Their prophets and his- 
torians, who held fast to the ancient beliefs (though 
they gave them so liberal an interpretation as to 
think it a sufficient manifestation of God's displeasure 
towards a king if any evil happened to his great 
grandson), never ceased to complain that their coun- 
trymen turned a deaf ear to their vaticinations ; and 
hence, with the faith they held in a divine govern- 


ment operating by temporal penalties, they could not 
fail to anticipate (as Mirabeau's father without such 
prompting, was able to do on the eve of the French 
Revolution) la culbute generate ; an expectation which, 
luckily for the credit of their prophetic powers, was 
fulfilled ; unlike that of the Apostle John, who in the 
only intelligible prophecy in the Eevelations, foretold 
to the city of the seven hills a fate like that of 
Nineveh and Babylon ; w^hich prediction remains to 
this hour unaccomplished. Unquestionably the con- 
viction which experience in time forced on all but 
the very ignorant, that divine punishments were 
not to be confidently expected in a temporal form, 
contributed much to the downfall of the old religions, 
and the general adoption of one which without abso- 
lutely excluding providential interferences in this life 
for the punishment of guilt or the reward of merit, 
removed the principal scene of divine retribution to 
a world after death. But rewards and punishments 
postponed to that distance of time, and never seen by 
the eye, are not calculated, even when infinite and 
eternal, to have, on ordinary minds, a very powerful 
eifect in opposition to strong temptation. Their 
remoteness alone is a prodigious deduction from their 
efficacy, on such minds as those which most require 
the restraint of punishment. A still greater abate- 
ment is their uncertainty, which belongs to them 
from the very nature of the case : for rewards and 


punishments administered after death, must be awarded 
not definitely to particular actions, but on a general 
survey of the person's whole life, and he easily per- 
suades himself that whatever may have been his 
peccadilloes, there will be a balance in his favour at 
the last. All positive religions aid this self-delusion. 
Bad religions teach that divine vengeance may be 
bought off, by offerings, or personal abasement ; the 
better religions, not to drive sinners to despair, dwell 
so much on the divine mercy, that hardly any one 
is compelled to think himself irrevocably condemned. 
The sole quality in these punishments which might 
seem calculated to make them efficacious, their over- 
powering magnitude, is itself a reason why nobody 
(except a hypochondriac here and there) ever really 
believes that he is in any very serious danger of 
incurring them. Even the worst malefactor is hardly 
able to think that any crime he has had it in his power 
to commit, any evil he can have inflicted in this short 
space of existence, can have deserved torture extending 
through an eternity. Accordingly religious writers 
and preachers are never tired of complaining how 
little effect religious motives have on men's lives and 
conduct, notwithstanding the tremendous penalties 

Mr. Bentham, whom I have already mentioned as 
one of the few authors who have written anything to 
the purpose on the efficacy of the religious sanction, 


adduces several cases to prove that religious obligation, 
when not enforced by public opinion, produces scarcely 
any effect on conduct. His first example is that of 
oaths. The oaths taken in courts of justice, and any 
others which from the manifest importance to society 
of their being kept, public opinion rigidly enforces, 
are felt as real and binding obligations. But univer- 
sity oaths and custom-house oaths, though in a 
religious point of view equally obligatory, are in 
practice utterly disregarded even by men in other 
respects honourable. The university oath to obey 
the statutes has been for centuries, with universal 
acquiescence, set at nought : and utterly false state- 
ments are (or used to be) daily and unblushingly 
sworn to at the Custom-house, by persons as attentive 
as other people to all the ordinary obligations of life. 
The explanation being, that veracity in these cases was 
not enforced by public opinion. The second case 
which Bentham cites is duelling ; a practice now, in 
this country, obsolete, but in full vigour in several 
other Christian countries; deemed and admitted to 
be a sin by almost all who, nevertheless, in obedience 
to opinion, and to escape from personal humiliation, 
are guilty of it. The third case is that of illicit sexual 
intercourse ; which in both sexes, stands in the very 
highest rank of religious sins, yet not being severely 
censured by opinion in the male sex, they have in 
general very little scruple in committing it ; while in 


the case of women, though the religious obligation is 
not stronger, yet being backed in real earnest by 
public opinion, it is commonly effectual. 

Some objection may doubtless be taken to Ben- 
tham's instances, considered as crucial experiments on 
the power of the religious sanction ; for (it may be 
said) people do not really believe that in these cases 
they shall be punished by Grod, any more than by 
man. And this is certainly true in the case of those 
university and other oaths, which are habitually taken 
without any intention of keeping them. The oath, 
in these cases, is regarded as a mere formality, desti- 
tute of any serious meaning in the sight of the Deity ; 
and the most scrupulous person, even if he does 
reproach himself for having taken an oath which 
nobody deems fit to be kept, does not in his con- 
science tax himself with the guilt of perjury, but only 
with the profanation of a ceremony. This, there- 
fore, is not a good example of the weakness of the 
religious motive when divorced from that of human 
opinion. The point which it illustrates is rather the 
tendency of the one motive to come and go with the 
other, so that where the penalties of public opinion 
cease, the religious motive ceases also. The same 
criticism, however, is not equally applicable to 
Bentham's other examples, duelling, and sexual 
irregularities. Those who do these acts, the first by 
the command of public opinion, the latter with its 


indulgence, really do, in most cases, believe that they 
are offending God. Doubtless, they do not think that 
they are offending him in such a degree as very 
seriously to endanger their salvation. Their reliance 
on his mercy prevails over their dread of his resent- 
ment ; affording an exemplification of the remark 
already made, that the unavoidable uncertainty of 
religious penalties makes them feeble as a deterring 
motive. They are so, even in the case of acts which 
human opinion condemns : much more, with those to 
which it is indulgent. What mankind think venial, 
it is hardly ever supposed that God looks upon in a 
serious light : at least by those who feel in themselves 
any inclination to practise it. 

I do not for a moment think of denying that there 
are states of mind in which the idea of religious 
punishment acts with the most overwhelming force. 
In hypochondriacal disease, and in those with whom, 
from great disappointments or other moral causes, the 
thoughts and imagination have assumed an habitually 
melancholy complexion, that topic, falling in with the 
pre-existing tendency of the mind, supplies images 
well fitted to drive the unfortunate sufferer even to 
madness. Often, during a temporary state of depres- 
sion, these ideas take such a hold of the mind as to 
give a permanent turn to the character ; being the 
most common case of what, in sectarian phraseology, 
is called conversion. But if the depressed state ceases 


after the conversion, as it commonly does, and the 
convert does not relapse, but perseveres in his new 
course of life, the principal difference between it and 
the old is usually found to be, that the man now 
guides his life by the public opinion of his religious 
associates, as he before guided it by that of the pro- 
fane world. At all events, there is one clear proof 
how little the generality of mankind, either religious or 
worldly, really dread eternal punishments, when we 
see how, even at the approach of death, when the re- 
moteness which took so much from their effect has 
been exchanged for the closest proximity, almost all 
persons who have not been guilty of some enormous 
crime (and many who have) are quite free from un- 
easiness as to their prospects in another world, and 
never for a moment seem to think themselves in any 
real danger of eternal punishment. 

With regard to the cruel deaths and bodily tor- 
tures, which confessors and martyrs have so often 
undergone for the sake of religion, I would not de- 
preciate them by attributing any part of this admirable 
courage and constancy to the influence of human 
opinion. Human opinion indeed has shown itself 
quite equal to the production of similar firmness in 
persons not otherwise distinguished by moral excel- 
lence ; such as the North American Indian at the 
stake. But if it was not the thought of glory in the 
eyes of their fellow-religionists, which upheld these 


heroic sufferers in their agony, as little do I believe 
that it was, generally speaking, that of the pleasures 
of heaven or the pains of hell. Their impulse was a 
divine enthusiasm a self- forgetting devotion to an 
idea : a state of exalted feeling, by no means peculiar 
to religion, but which it is the privilege of every 
great cause to inspire ; a phenomenon belonging to 
the critical moments of existence, not to the ordinary 
play of human motives, and from which nothing can 
l>e inferred as to the efficacy of the ideas which it 
sprung from, whether religious or any other, in over- 
coming ordinary temptations, and regulating the course 
of daily life. 

We may now have done with this branch of the 
subject, which is, after all, the vulgarest part of it. 
The value of religion as a supplement to human laws, 
a more cunning sort of police, an auxiliary to the 
thief-catcher and the hangman, is not that part of its 
claims which the more highminded of its votaries are 
fondest of insisting on : and they would probably be 
as ready as any one to admit, that if the nobler offices 
of religion in the soul could be dispensed with, a 
substitute might be found for so coarse and selfish a 
social instrument as the fear of hell. In their view 
of the matter, the best of mankind absolutely require 
religion for the perfection of their own character,even 
though the coercion of the worst might possibly be 
accomplished without its aid. 


Even in the social point of view, however, under 
its most elevated aspect, these nobler spirits generally 
assert the necessity of religion, as a teacher, if not as 
an enforcer, of social morality. They say, that religion 
alone can teach us what morality is ; that all the high 
morality ever recognized hy mankind, was learnt from 
religion ; that the greatest uninspired philosophers in 
their sublimest flights, stopt far short of the Christian 
morality, and whatever inferior morality they may 
have attained to (by the assistance, as many think, of 
dim traditions derived from the Hebrew books, or 
from a primaeval revelation) they never could induce 
the common mass of their fellow citizens to accept it 
from them. That, only when a morality is understood 
to come from the Gods, do men in general adopt it, 
rally round it, and lend their human sanctions for its 
enforcement. That granting the sufficiency of human 
motives to make the rule obeyed, were it not for 
the religious idea we should not have had the rule 

There is truth in much of this, considered as matter 
of history. Ancient peoples have generally, if not 
always, received their morals, their laws, their intel- 
lectual beliefs, and even their practical arts of life, all 
in short which tended either to guide or to discipline 
them, as revelations from the superior powers, and in 
any other way could not easily have been induced to 
accept them. This was partly the effect of their hopes 


and fears from those powers, which were of much 
greater and more universal potency in early times, 
when the agency of the Gods was seen in the .daily 
events of life, experience not having yet disclosed the 
fixed laws according to which physical phenomena 
succeed one another. Independently, too, of personal 
hopes and fears, the involuntary deference felt by 
these rude minds for power superior to their own, and 
the tendency to suppose that beings of superhuman 
power must also be of superhuman knowledge and 
wisdom, made them disinterestedly desire to conform 
their conduct to the presumed preferences of these 
powerful beings, and to adopt no new practice without 
their authorization either spontaneously given, or 
solicited and obtained. 

But because, when men were still savages, they 
would not have received either moral or scientific 
truths unless they had supposed them to be super- 
naturally imparted, does it follow that they would 
now give up moral truths any more than scien- 
tific, because they believed them to have no higher 
origin than wise and noble human hearts ? Are not 
moral truths strong enough in their own evidence, at 
all events to retain the belief of mankind when once 
they have acquired it ? I grant that some of the 
precepts of Christ as exhibited in the Gospels rising 
far above the Paulism which is the foundation of 
ordinary Christianity carry some kinds of moral 


goodness to a greater height than had ever been 
attained before, though much even of what is sup- 
posed to be peculiar to them is equalled in the Medi- 
tations of Marcus Antoninus, which we have no 
ground for believing to have been in any way 
indebted to Christianity. But this benefit, whatever 
it amounts to, has been gained. Mankind have 
entered into the possession of it. It has become the 
property of .humanity, and cannot now be lost by 
anything short of a return to primseval barbarism. 
The " new commandment to love one another;"* the 
recognition that the greatest are those who serve, not 
who are served by, others ; the reverence for the weak 
and humble, which is the foundation of chivalry, they 
and not the strong being pointed out as having the 
first place in God's regard, and the first claim on .their 
fellow men ; the lesson of the parable of the Good 
Samaritan ; that of " he that is without sin let him 
throw the first stone ;" the precept of doing as we 
would be done by ; and such other noble moralities as 
are to be found, mixed with some poetical exagge- 
rations, and some maxims of which it is difficult to 
ascertain the precise object; in the authentic sayings 
of Jesus of Nazareth ; these are surely in sufficient 

* Not, however, a new commandment. In justice to the great 
Hebrew lawgiver, it should always be remembered that the precept, to 
love thy neighbour as thyself, already existed in the Pentateuch ; and 
very surprising it is to find it there. 


harmony with the intellect and feelings of every 
good man or woman, to be in no danger of being let 
go, after having been once acknowledged as the creed 
of the best and foremost portion of our species. 
There will be, as there have been, shortcomings 
enough for a long time to come in acting on them ; 
but that they should be forgotten, or cease to be 
operative on the human conscience, while human 
beings remain cultivated or civilized, may be pro- 
nounced, once for all, impossible. 

On the other hand, there is a very real evil conse- 
quent on ascribing a supernatural origin to the 
received maxims of morality. That origin consecrates 
the whole of them, and protects them from being dis- 
cussed or criticized. So that if among the moral 
doctrines received as a part of religion, there be any 
which are imperfect which were either erroneous 
from the first, or not properly limited and guarded in 
the expression, or which, unexceptionable once, are no 
longer suited to the changes that have taken place 
in human relations (and it is my firm belief that in 
so-called Christian morality, instances of all these 
kinds are to be found) these doctrines are considered 
equally binding on the conscience with the noblest, 
most permanent and most universal precepts of Christ. 
Wherever morality is supposed to be of supernatural 
origin, morality is stereotyped ; as law is, for the same 
reason, among believers in the Koran. 



Belief, then, in the supernatural, great as are the 
services which it rendered in the early stages of 
human development, cannot be considered to be any 
longer required, either for enabling us to know what 
is right and wrong in social morality, or for supply- 
ing us with motives to do right and to abstain from 
wrong. Such belief, therefore, is not necessary for 
social purposes, at least in the coarse way in which 
these can be considered apart from the character of 
the individual human being. That more elevated 
branch of the subject now remains to be considered. 
Jf supernatural beliefs are indeed necessary to the 
perfection of the individual character, they are neces- 
sary also to the highest excellence in social conduct : 
necessary in a far higher sense than that vulgar one, 
which constitutes it the great support of morality in 
common eyes. 

Let us then consider, what it is in human nature 
which causes it to require a religion ; what wants of 
the human mind religion supplies, and what qualities 
it developes. When we have understood this, we 
shall be better able to judge, how far these wants can 
be otherwise supplied and those qualities, or qualities 
equivalent to them, unfolded and brought to per- 
fection by other means. 

The old saying, Primus in orbe Deos fecit timor, I 
hold to be untrue, or to contain, at most, only a small 
amount of truth. Belief in Gods had, I conceive, even 


in the rudest minds, a more honourable origin. Its 
universality has been very rationally explained from 
the spontaneous tendency of the mind to attribute 
life and volition, similar to what it feels in itself, to 
all natural objects and phenomena which appear to 
be self-moving. This was a plausible fancy, and no 
better theory could be formed at first. It was natu- 
rally persisted in so long as the motions and operations 
of these objects seemed to be arbitrary, and incapable 
of being accounted for but by the free choice of the 
Power itself. At first, no doubt, the objects them- 
selves were supposed to be alive ; and this belief still 
subsists among African fetish -worshippers. But as 
it must soon have appeared absurd that things which 
could do so much more than man, could not or would 
not do what man does, as for example to speak, the 
transition was made to supposing that the object pre- 
sent to the senses was inanimate, but was the creature 
and instrument of an invisible being with a form and 
organs similar to the human. 

These beings having first been believed in, fear of 
them necessarily followed ; since they were thought 
able to inflict at pleasure on human beings great evils, 
which the sufferers neither knew how to avert nor to 
foresee, but were left dependent, for their chances of 
doing either, upon solicitations addressed to the deities 
themselves. It is true, therefore, that fear had much 
to do with religion : but belief in the Gods evidently 

H 2 


preceded, and did not arise from, fear: though the 
fear, when established, was a strong support to the 
belief, nothing being conceived to be so great an 
offence to the divinities as any doubt of their 

It is unnecessary to prosecute further the natural 
history of religion, as we have not here to account for 
its origin in rude minds, but for its persistency in the 
cultivated. A sufficient explanation of this will, I 
conceive, be found in the small limits of man's certain 
knowledge, and the boundlessness of his desire io 
know. Human existence is girt round with mystery ^ 
the narrow region of our experience is a small island 
in the midst of a boundless sea, which at once awes 
our feelings and stimulates our imagination by its 
vastness and its obscurity. To add to the mystery, 
the domain of our earthly existence is not only an 
island in infinite space, but also in infinite time. 
The past and the future are alike shrouded from us : 
we neither know the origin of anything which is, nor 
its final destination. If we feel deeply interested in 
knowing that there are myriads of worlds at an im- 
measurable, and to our faculties inconceivable, distance 
from us in space ; if we are eager to discover what 
little we can about these worlds, and when we cannot 
know what they are, can never satiate ourselves with 
speculating on what they may be ; is it not a matter 
of far deeper interest to us to learn, or even to con- 


jecture, from whence came this nearer world which 
we inhabit ; what cause or agency made it what it is, 
,and on what powers depend its future fate ? Who 
would not desire this more ardently than any other 
conceivable knowledge, so long as there appeared the 
slightest hope of attaining it ? What would not one 
give for any credible tidings from that mysterious 
region, any glimpse into it which might enable us to 
gee the smallest light through its darkness, especially 
any theory of it which we could believe, and which 
represented it as tenanted by a benignant and not a 
hostile influence ? But since we are able to penetrate 
into that region with the imagination only, assisted 
by specious but inconclusive analogies derived from 
human agency and design, imagination is free to fill 
up the vacancy with the imagery most congenial to 
itself ; sublime and elevating if it be a lofty imagina- 
tion, low and mean if it be a grovelling one. 

Eeligion and poetry address themselves, at least in 
one of their aspects, to the same part of the human 
constitution : they both supply the same want, that of 
ideal conceptions grander and more beautiful than we 
see realized in the prose of human life. Eeligion, as 
distinguished from poetry, is the product of the 
craving to know whether these imaginative concep- 
tions have realities answering to them in some other 
world than ours. The mind, in this state, eagerly 
matches at any rumours respecting other worlds, 


especially when delivered by persons whom it deems 
wiser than itself. To the poetry of the supernatural, 
comes to be thus added a positive belief and expecta- 
tion, which unpoetical minds can share with the 
poetical. Belief in a God or Gods, and in a life after 
death, becomes the canvas which every mind, accord- 
ing to its capacity, covers with such ideal pictures as 
it can either invent or copy. In that other life each 
hopes to find the good which he has failed to find on 
earth, or the better which is suggested to him by the 
good which on earth he has partially seen and known. 
More especially, this belief supplies the finer minds 
with material for conceptions of beings more awful 
than they can have known on earth, and more excel- 
lent than they probably have known. So long as 
human life is insufficient to satisfy human aspirations, 
so long there will be a craving for higher things, 
which finds its most obvious satisfaction in religion. 
So long as earthly life is full of sufferings, so long 
there will be need of consolations, which the hope of 
heaven affords to the selfish, the love of God to the 
tender and grateful. 

The value, therefore, of religion to the individual, 
both in the past and present, as a source of personal 
satisfaction and of elevated feelings, is not to be dis- 
puted. But it has still to be considered, whether in 
order to obtain this good, it is necessary to travel 
beyond the boundaries of the world which we inhabit ; 


or whether the idealization of our earthly life, the 
cultivation of a high conception of what it may be 
made, is not capable of supplying a poetry, and, in 
the best sense of the word, a religion, equally fitted 
to exalt the feelings, and (with the same aid from 
education) still better calculated to ennoble the 
conduct, than any belief respecting the unseen 

At the bare suggestion of such a possibility, many 
will exclaim, that the short duration, the smallness 
and insignificance of life, if there is no prolongation 
of it beyond what we see, makes it impossible that 
great and elevated feelings can connect themselves 
with anything laid out on so small a scale : that such 
a conception of life can match with nothing higher 
than Epicurean feelings, and the Epicurean doctrine 
" Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." 

Unquestionably, within certain limits, the maxim 
of the Epicureans is sound, and applicable to much 
higher things than eating and drinking. To make 
the most of the present for all good purposes, those 
of enjoyment among the rest ; to keep under control 
those mental dispositions which lead to undue sacri- 
fice of present good for a future which may never 
arrive; to cultivate the habit of deriving pleasure 
from things within our reach, rather than from the 
too eager pursuit of objects at a distance ; to think all 
time wasted which is not spent either in personal 


pleasure or in doing things useful to oneself or others ; 
these are wise maxims, and the " carpe diem" doc- 
trine, carried thus far, is a rational and legitimate 
corollary from the shortness of life. But that because 
life is short we should care for nothing beyond it, is 
not a legitimate conclusion ; and the supposition, that 
human beings in general are not capable of feeling 
deep and even the deepest interest in things which 
they will never live to see, is a view of human nature 
as false as it is abject. Let it be remembered that if 
individual life is short, the life of the human species 
is not short: its indefinite duration is practically 
~7 equivalent to endlessness ; and being combined with 
indefinite capability of improvement, it offers to the 
imagination and sympathies a large enough object to 
satisfy any reasonable demand for grandeur of aspi- 
ration. If such an object appears small to a 
mind accustomed to dream of infinite and eternal 
beatitudes,it will expand into far other dimensions when 
those baseless fancies shall have receded into the past. 
Nor let it be thought that only the more eminent 
of our species, in mind and heart, are capable of 
identifying their feelings with the entire life of the 
human race. This noble capability implies indeed a 
certain cultivation, but not superior to that which 
might be, and certainly will be if human improve- 
ment continues, the lot of all. Objects far smaller 
than this, and equally confined within the limits of 


ihe earth (though not within those of a single human 
life), have been found sufficient to inspire large masses 
and long successions of mankind with an enthusiasm 
capable of ruling the conduct, and colouring the whole 
life. Rome was to the entire Roman people, for 
many generations as much a religion as Jehovah was 
to the Jews ; nay, much more, for they never fell off 
from their worship as the Jews did from theirs. And 
the Eomans, otherwise a selfish people, with no very 
remarkable faculties of any kind except the purely 
practical, derived nevertheless from this one idea a 
certain greatness of soul, which manifests itself in all 
their history where that idea is concerned and no- 
where else, and has earned for them the large share of 
admiration, in other respects not at all deserved, 
which has been felt for them by most noble-minded 
persons from that time to this. 

When we consider how ardent a sentiment, in 
favourable circumstances of education, the love of 
country has become, we cannot judge it impossible 
that the love of that larger country, the world, may 
be nursed into similar strength, both as a source of 
elevated emotion and as a principle of duty. He who 
needs any other lesson on this subject than the whole 
course of ancient history affords, let him read Cicero 
de Officiis. It cannot be said that the standard of 
morals laid down in that celebrated treatise is a high 
standard. To our notions it is on many points unduly 


lax, and admits capitulations of conscience. But on 
the subject of duty to our country there is no com- 
promise. That any man, with the smallest pretensions 
to virtue, could hesitate to sacrifice life, reputation, 
family, everything valuable to him, to the love of 
country is a supposition which this eminent inter- 
preter of Greek and Eoman morality cannot entertain 
for a moment. If, then, persons could be trained, as 
we see they were, not only to believe in theory that 
the good of their country was an object to which all 
others ought to yield, but to feel this practically as 
the grand duty of life, so also may they be made to 
feel the same absolute obligation towards the uni- 
versal good. A morality grounded on large and wise 
views of the good of the whole, neither sacrificing the 
individual to the aggregate nor the aggregate to the 
individual, but giving to duty on the one hand and to 
freedom and spontaneity on the other their proper pro- 
vince, would derive its power in the superior natures 
from sympathy and benevolence and the passion for 
ideal excellence : in the inferior, from the same 
feelings cultivated up to the measure of their capacity, 
with the superadded force of shame. This exalted 
morality would not depend for its ascendancy on any 
hope of reward ; but the reward which might be 
looked for, and the thought of which would be a con- 
solation in suffering, and a support in moments of 
weakness, would not be a problematical future exis- 


tence, but the approbation, in this, of those whom we 
respect, and ideally of all those, dead or living, whom 
we admire or venerate. For, the thought that our 
dead parents or friends would have approved our con- 
duct is a scarcely less powerful motive than the 
knowledge that our living ones do approve it : and 
the idea that Socrates, or Howard or Washington, or 
Antoninus, or Christ, would have sympathized with 
us, or that we are attempting to do our part in the 
spirit in which they did theirs, has operated on the 
very best minds, as a strong incentive to act up to 
their highest feelings and convictions. 

To call these sentiments by the name morality, ex- 
clusively of any other title, is claiming too little for 
them. They are a real religion ; of which, as of 
other religions, outward good works (the utmost 
meaning usually suggested by the word morality) are 
only a part, and are indeed rather the fruits of the 
religion than the religion itself. The essence of re- 
ligion is the strong and earnest direction of the 

o o 

emotions and desires towards an ideal object, recog- 
nized as of the highest excellence, and as rightfully 
paramount over all selfish objects of desire. This 
condition is fulfilled by the Eeligion of Humanity in 
as eminent a degree, and in as high a sense, as by the 
supernatural religions even in their best manifesta- 
tions, and far more so than in any of their others. 
Much more might be added on this topic; but 


enough has been said to convince any one, who can 
distinguish between the intrinsic capacities of human 
nature and the forms in which those capacities happen 
to have been historically developed, that the sense of 
unity with mankind, and a deep feeling for the gene- 
ral good, may be cultivated into a sentiment and a 
principle capable of fulfilling every important function 
of religion and itself justly entitled to the name. I 
will now further maintain, that it is not only capable 
of fulfilling these functions, but would fulfil them 
better than any form whatever of supernaturalism. 
It is not only entitled to be called a religion : it is a 
better religion than any of those which are ordinarily 
called by thafc title. 

For, in the first place, it is disinterested. It carries 
the thoughts and feelings out of self, and fixes them 
on an unselfish object, loved and pursued as an end 
for its own sake. The religions which deal in pro- 
mises and threats regarding a future .life, do exactly 
the contrary: they fasten down the thoughts to the 
person's own posthumous interests ; they tempt him 
to regard the performance of his duties to others 
mainly as a means to his own personal salvation ; and 
are one of the most serious obstacles to the great 
purpose of moral culture, the strengthening of the 
unselfish and weakening of the selfish element in our 
nature ; since they hold out to the imagination selfish 
good and evil of such tremendous magnitude, that it 


is difficult for any one who fully believes in their 1 
reality, to have feeling or interest to spare for any 
other distant and ideal object. It is true, many of 
the most unselfish of mankind have been believers in 
supernaturalism, because their minds have not dwelt 
on the threats and promises of their religion, but 
chiefly on the idea of a Being to whom they looked 
up with a confiding love, and in whose hands they 
willingly leffc all that related especially to themselves. 
But in its effect on common minds, what now goes 
by the name of religion operates mainly through the 
feelings of self-interest. Even the Christ of the 
Gospels holds out the direct promise of reward from 
heaven as a primary inducement to the noble and 
beautiful beneficence towards our fellow-creatures 
which he so impressively inculcates. This is a radical 
inferiority of the best supernatural religions, compared 
with the Eeligion of Humanity; since the greatest 
thing which moral influences can do for the ameliora- 
tion of human nature, is to cultivate the unselfish 
feelings in the only mode in which any active principle 
in human nature can be effectually cultivated, namely 
by habitual exercise : but the habit of expecting ta 
be rewarded in another life for our conduct in this, 
makes even virtue itself no longer an exercise of the 
unselfish feelings. 

Secondly, it is an immense abatement from the 
worth of the old religions as means of elevating and 


improving human character, that it is nearly, if not 
quite impossible for them to produce their best moral 
effects, unless we suppose a certain torpidity, if not 
positive twist in the intellectual faculties. For it is 
impossible that any one who habitually thinks, and 
who is unable to blunt his inquiring intellect by 
sophistry, should be able without misgiving to go on 
ascribing absolute perfection to the author and ruler 
of so clumsily made and capriciously governed a 
creation as this planet and the life of its inhabitants. 
The adoration of such a being cannot be with the 
whole heart, unless the heart is first considerably 
sophisticated. The worship must either be greatly 
overclouded by doubt, and occasionally quite dar- 
kened by it, or the moral sentiments must sink to the 
low level of the ordinances of Nature : the worshipper 
must learn to think blind partiality, atrocious cruelty, 
and reckless injustice, not blemishes in an object of 
worship, since all these abound to excess in the 
commonest phenomena of Nature. It is true, the 
God who is worshipped is not, generally speaking, the 
God of Nature only, but also the God of some reve- 
lation ; and the character of the revelation will greatly 
modify and, it may be, improve the moral influences 
of the religion. This is emphatically true of Chris- 
tianity ; since the Author of the Sermon on the Mount 
is assuredly a far more benignant Being than the 
Author of Nature. But unfortunately, the believer 


in the Christian revelation is obliged to believe that 
the same being is the author of both. This, unless 
he resolutely averts his mind from the subject, or 
practises the act of quieting his conscience by sophistry, 
involves him in moral perplexities without end ; since 
the ways of his Deity in Nature are on many occasions 
totally at variance with the precepts, as he believes, 
of the same Deity in the Gospel. He who comes out 
with least moral damage from this embarrassment, is 
probably the one who never attempts to reconcile the 
two standards with one another, but confesses to 
himself that the purposes of Providence are myste- 
rious, that its ways are not our ways, that its justice 
and goodness are not the justice and goodness which 
we can conceive and which it befits us to practise. 
When, however, this is the feeling of the believer, 
the worship of the Deity ceases to be the adoration of 
abstract moral perfection. It becomes the bowing 
down to a gigantic image of something not fit for us 
to imitate. It is the worship of power only. 

I say nothing of the moral difficulties and perver- 
sions involved in revelation itself ; though even in the 
Christianity of the Gospels, at least in its ordinary 
interpretation, there are some of so flagrant a character 
as almost to outweigh all the beauty and benignity 
and moral greatness which so eminently distinguish 
the sayings and character of Christ. The recognition, 
for example, of the object of highest worship, in a 


being who could make a Hell ; and who could create 
countless generations of human beings with the 
certain foreknowledge that he was creating them for 
this fate. Is there any moral enormity which might 
not be justified by imitation of such a Deity ? And 
is it possible to adore such a one without a frightful 
distortion of the standard of right and wrong? Any 
other of the outrages to the most ordinary justice and 
humanity involved in the common Christian con- 
ception of the moral character of God, sinks inta 
insignificance beside this dreadful idealization of 
wickedness. Most of them too, are happily not so 
unequivocally deducible from the very words of Christ 
as to be indisputably a part of Christian doctrine. It 
may be doubted, for instance, whether Christianity is 
really responsible for atonement and redemption, origi- 
nal sin and vicarious punishment: and the same may 
be said respecting the doctrine which makes belief in 
the divine mission of Christ a necessary condition of 
salvation. It is nowhere represented that Christ 
himself made this statement, except in the huddled-up 
account of the Resurrection contained in the con- 
cluding verses of St. Mark, which some critics (I 
believe the best), consider to be an interpolation. 
Again, the proposition that " the powers that be are 
ordained of God" and the whole series of corollaries 
deduced from it in the Epistles, belong to St. Paul, 
and must stand or fall with Paulism, not with 


Chris inanity. But there is one moral contradiction 
inseparable from every form of Christianity, which no 
ingenuity can resolve, and no sophistry explain away. 
It is, that so precious a gift, bestowed on a few, 
should have been withheld from the many: that 
countless millions of human beings should have 
been allowed to live and die, to sin and 
suffer, without the one thing needful, the divine 
remedy for sin and suffering, which it would have 
cost the Divine Giver as little to have vouchsafed to 
all, as to have bestowed by special grace upon a 
favoured minority. Add to this, that the divine 
message, assuming it to be such, has been authenti- 
cated by credentials so insufficient, that they fail to 
convince a large proportion of the strongest and most 
cultivated minds, and the tendency to disbelieve them 
appears to grow with the growth of scientific knowledge 
and critical discrimination. He who can believe these 
to be the intentional shortcomings of a perfectly good 
Being, must impose silence on every prompting of the 
sense of goodness and justice as received among men. 

It is, no doubt, possible (and there are many 
instances of it) to worship with the intensest devotion 
either Deity, that of Nature or of the Gospel, without 
any perversion of the moral sentiments : but this 
must be by fixing the attention exclusively on what 
is beautiful and beneficent in the precepts and spirit 
of the Gospel and in the dispensations of Nature, and 


putting all that is the reverse as entirely aside as if it 
did not exist. Accordingly, this simple and innocent 
faith can only, as I have said, co-exist with a torpid 
and inactive state of the speculative faculties. For a 
person of exercised intellect, there is no way of 
attaining anything equivalent to it, save by sophis- 
tication and perversion, either of the understanding 
or of the conscience. It may almost always be said 
both of sects and of individuals, who derive their 
morality from religion, that the better logicians they 
are, the worse moralists. 

One only form of belief in the supernatural one 
only theory respecting the origin and government of 
the universe stands wholly clear both of intellectual 
contradiction and of moral obliquity. It is that which, 
resigning irrevocably the idea of an omnipotent 
creator, regards Nature and Life not as the expression 
throughout of the moral character and purpose of the 
Deity, but as the product of a struggle between 
contriving goodness and an intractable material, as 
was believed by Plato, or a Principle of Evil, as was 
the doctrine of the Manicheans. A creed like this, 
which I have known to be devoutly held by at least 
one cultivated and conscientious person of our own day, 
allows it to be believed that all the mass of evil which 
exists was undesigned by, and exists not by the 
appointment of, but in spite of the Being whom we 
are called upon to worship. A virtuous human 


being assumes in this theory the exalted character of 
a fellow-labourer with the Highest, a fellow-combatant 
in the great strife ; contributing his little, which by 
the aggregation of many like himself becomes much, 
towards that progressive ascendancy, and ultimately 
complete triumph of good over evil, which history 
points to, and which this doctrine teaches us to 
regard as planned by the Being to whom we owe all 
the benevolent contrivance we behold in Nature. 
Against the moral tendency of this creed no possible 
objection can lie : it can produce on whoever can 
succeed in believing it, no other than an ennobling 
effect. The evidence for it, indeed, if evidence it can 
be called, is too shadowy and unsubstantial, and the 
promises it holds out too distant and uncertain, to 
admit of its being a permanent substitute for the 
religion of humanity ; but the two may be held in 
conjunction : and he to whom ideal good, and the 
progress of the world towards it, are already a religion, 
even though that other creed may seem to him a 
belief not grounded on evidence, is at liberty to 
indulge the pleasing and encouraging thought, that 
its truth is possible. Apart from all dogmatic belief, 
there is for those who need it, an ample domain in 
the region of the imagination which may be planted 
with possibilities, with hypotheses which cannot be 
known to be false; and when there is anything in 
the appearances of nature to favour them, as in this 

I 2 


case there is (for whatever force we attach to the 
analogies of Nature with the effects of human con- 
trivance, there is no disputing the remark of Paley, 
that what is good in nature exhibits those analogies 
much oftener than what is evil), the contemplation of 
these possibilities is a legitimate indulgence, capable 
of bearing its part, with other influences, in feeding 
and animating the tendency of the feelings and 
impulses towards good. 

One advantage, such as it is, the supernatural 
religions must always possess over the Religion of 
Humanity; the prospect they hold out to the indi- 
vidual of a life after death. For, though the scepti- 
cism of the understanding does not necessarily exclude 
the Theism of the imagination and feelings, and this, 
again, gives opportunity for a hope that the power 
which has done so much for us may be able and 
willing to do this also, such vague possibility must 
ever stop far short of a conviction. It remains then 
to estimate the value of this element the prospect of 
a world to come as a constituent of earthly happi- 
ness. I cannot but think that as the condition of 
mankind becomes improved, as they grow happier in 
their lives, and more capable of deriving 

from unselfish sources, they will care less and less for 
this flattering expectation. It is not, naturally or 
generally, the happy who are the most anxious either 
for a prolongation of the present life, or for a life 


hereafter : it is those who never have been happy. 
They who have had their happiness can bear to part 
with existence: but it is hard to die without ever I/A/-C- 
having lived. When mankind cease to need a future 
existence as a consolation for the sufferings of the 
present, it will have lost its chief value to them, for 
themselves. I am now speaking of the unselfish. 
Those who are so wrapped up in self that they are 
unable to identify their feelings with anything which 
will survive them, or to feel their life prolonged in 
their younger cotemporaries and in all who help to 
carry on the progressive movement of human affairs, 
require the notion of another selfish life beyond the 
grave, to enable them to keep up any interest in ex- 
istence, since the present life, as its termination ap- 
proaches, dwindles into something too insignificant to 
be worth caring about. But if the Eeligion of 
Humanity were as sedulously cultivated as the super- 
natural religions are (and there is no difficulty in 
conceiving that it might be much more so), all who 
had received the customary amount of moral cultiva- 
tion would up to the hour of death live ideally in the 
life of those who are to follow them : and though 
doubtless they would often willingly survive as indi- 
viduals for a much longer period than the present 
duration of life, it appears to me probable that after a 
length of time different in different persons, they 
would have had enough of existence, and would 


gladly lie down and take their eternal rest. Mean- 
while and without looking so far forward, we may 
remark, that those who believe the immortality of the 
soul, generally quit life with fully as much, if not 
more, reluctance, as those who have no such expecta- 
tion. The mere cessation of existence is no evil to 
any one: the idea is only formidable through the 
illusion of imagination which makes one conceive 
oneself as if one were alive and feeling oneself dead. 
What is odious in death is not death itself, but the 
act of dying, and its lugubrious accompaniments : all 
of which must be equally undergone by the believer 
in immortality. Nor can I perceive that the sceptic 
loses by his scepticism any real and valuable consolation 
except one ; the hope of reunion with those dear to 
him who have ended their earthly life before him. 
That loss, indeed, is neither to be denied nor extenu- 
ated. In many cases it is beyond the reach of com- 
parison or estimate ; and will always suffice to keep 
alive, in the more sensitive natures, the imaginative 
hope of a futurity which, if there is nothing to prove, 
there is as little in our knowledge and experience to 

History, so far as we know it, bears out the 
opinion, that mankind can perfectly well do without 
the belief in a heaven. The Greeks had anything 
but a tempting idea of a future state. Their Elysian 
fields held out very little attraction to their feelings 


and imagination. Achilles in the Odyssey expressed 
a very natural, and no doubt a very common, senti- 
ment, when he said that he would rather be on earth 
the serf of a needy master, than reign over the whole 
kingdom of the dead. And the pensive character so 
striking in the address of the dying emperor Hadrian 
to his soul, gives evidence that the popular conception 
had not undergone much variation during that long 
interval. Yet we neither find that the Greeks enjoyed 
life less, nor feared death more, than other people. 
The Buddhist religion counts probably at this day a 
greater number of votaries than either the Christian 
or the Mahomedan. The Buddhist creed recognises 
many modes of punishment in a future life, or rather 
lives, by the transmigration of the soul into new 
bodies of men or animals. But the blessing from 
Heaven which it proposes as a reward, to be earned 
by perseverance in the highest order of virtuous life, 
is annihilation ; the cessation, at least, of all conscious 
or separate existence. It is impossible to mistake in 
this religion, the work of legislators and moralists 
endeavouring to supply supernatural motives for the 
conduct which they were anxious to encourage ; and 
they could find nothing more transcendant to hold 
out as the capital prize to be won by the mightiest 
efforts of labour and self-denial, than what we are so 
often told is the terrible idea of annihilation. Surely 
this is a proof that the idea is not really or naturally 


terrible ; that not philosophers only, but the common 
order of mankind, can easily reconcile themselves to 
it, and even consider it as a good ; and that it is no un- 
natural part of the idea of a happy life, that life itself 
be laid down, after the best that it can give has been 
fully enjoyed through a long lapse of time ; when all 
its pleasures, even those of benevolence, are familiar, 
and nothing untasted and unknown is left to stimu- 
late curiosity and keep up the desire of prolonged 
existence. It seems to me not only possible but pro- 
bable, that in a higher, and, above all, a happier con- 
dition of human life, not annihilation but immortality 
may be the burdensome idea ; and that human nature, 
though pleased with the present, and by no means 
impatient to quit it, would find comfort and not sad- 
ness in the thought that it is not chained through 
eternity to a conscious existence which it cannot be 
assured that it will always wish to preserve. 





rFHE contest which subsists from of old between 
believers and unbelievers in natural and revealed 
religion, has, like other permanent contests, varied 
materially in its character from age to age ; and the 
present generation, at least in the higher regions of 
controversy, shows, as compared with the 18th and 
the beginning of the 19th century, a marked altera- 
tion in the aspect of the dispute. One feature of 
this change is so apparent as to be generally acknow- 
ledged ; the more softened temper in which the debate 
is conducted on the part of unbelievers. The reac- 
tionary violence, provoked by the intolerance of the 
other side, has in a great measure exhausted itself. 
Experience has abated the ardent hopes once enter- 
tained of the regeneration of the human race by 
merely negative doctrine by the destruction of 
superstition. The philosophical study of history, 


one of the most important creations of recent times, 
has rendered possible an impartial estimate of the 
doctrines and institutions of the past, from a relative 
instead of an absolute point of view as incidents of 
human development at which it is useless to grumble, 
and which may deserve admiration and gratitude for 
their effects in the past, even though they may be 
thought incapable of rendering similar services to the 
future. And the position assigned to Christianity 
or Theism by the more instructed of those who reject 
the supernatural, is that of things once of great value 
but which can now be done without ; rather than, as 
formerly, of things misleading and noxious ab initio. 

Along with this change in the moral attitude of 
thoughtful unbelievers towards the religious ideas of 
mankind, a corresponding difference has manifested 
itself in their intellectual attitude. The war against 
religious beliefs, in the last century was carried on 
principally on the ground of common sense or of 
logic ; in the present age, on the ground of science. 
The progress of the physical sciences is considered to 
have established, by conclusive evidence, matters of 
fact with which the religious traditions of mankind 
are not reconcileable ; while the science of human 
nature and history, is considered to show that the 
creeds of the past are natural growths of the human 
mind, in particular stages of its career, destined to 
disappear and give place to other convictions in a 


more advanced stage. In the progress of discussion 
tbis last class of considerations seems even to be 
superseding tbose wbich address themselves directly 
to the question of truth. Keligions tend to be 
discussed, at least by those who reject them, less as 
intrinsically true or false than as products thrown up 
by certain states of civilization, and which, like the 
animal and vegetable productions of a geological 
period perish in those which succeed it from the 
cessation of the conditions necessary to their con- 
tinued existence. 

This tendency of recent speculation to look upon 
human opinions pre-eminently from an historical point 
of view, as facts obeying laws of their own, and 
requiring, like other observed facts, an historical or a 
scientific explanation (a tendency not confined to 
religious subjects), is by no means to be blamed, but 
to be applauded ; not solely as drawing attention to 
an important and previously neglected aspect of 
human opinions, but because it has a real though 
indirect bearing upon the question of their truth. 
For, whatever opinion a person may adopt on any 
subject that admits of controversy, his assurance if 
he be a cautious thinker cannot be complete unless 
he is able to account for the existence of the op- 
posite opinion. To ascribe it to the weakness of 
the human understanding is an explanation which 
cannot be sufficient for such a thinker, for he will 


be slow to assume that he has himself a less share 
of that infirmity than the rest of mankind and that 
error is more likely to be on the other side than on 
his own. In his examination of evidence, the per- 
suasion of others, perhaps of mankind in general, 
is one of the data of the case one of the phe- 
nomena to be accounted for. As the human intellect 
though weak is not essentially perverted, there is 
a certain presumption of the truth of any opinion 
held by many human minds, requiring to be rebutted 
by assigning some other real or possible cause for 
its prevalence. And this consideration has a special 
relevancy to the inquiry concerning the foundations 
of theism, inasmuch as no argument for the truth 
of theism is more commonly invoked or more con- 
fidently relied on, than the general assent of man- 

But while giving its full value to this historical 
treatment of the religious question, we ought not 
therefore to let it supersede the dogmatic. The most 
important quality of an opinion on any momentous 
subject is its truth or falsity, which to us resolves 
itself into the sufficiency of the evidence on which it rests. 
It is indispensable that the subject of religion should 
from time to time be reviewed as a strictly scientific 
question, and that its evidences should be tested by 
the same scientific methods, and on the same principles 
as those of any of the speculative conclusions drawn 


by physical science. It being granted then that the 
legitimate conclusions of science are entitled to prevail 
over all opinions, however widely held, which conflict 
with them, and that the canons of scientific evidence 
which the successes and failures of two thousand years 
have established, are applicable to all subjects on 
which knowledge is attainable, let us proceed to con- 
sider what place there is for religious beliefs on the 
platform of science ; what evidences they can appeal 
to, such as science can recognize, and what foundation 
there is for the doctrines of religion, considered as 
scientific theorems. 

In this inquiry we of course begin with Natural 
Eeligion, the doctrine of the existence and attributes 
of God. 


^THOUGH I have defined the problem of Natural 
Theology, to be that of the existence of God or of 
a God, rather than of Gods, there is the amplest his- 
torical evidence that the belief in Gods is immeasura- 
bly more natural to the human mind than the belief 
in one author and ruler of nature ; and that this more 
elevated belief is, compared with the former, an arti- 
ficial product, requiring (except when impressed by 
early education) a considerable amount of intellectual 
culture before it can be reached. For a long time, 
the supposition appeared forced and unnatural that 
the diversity we see in the operations of nature can 
all be the work of a single will. To the untaught 
mind, and to all minds in pre-scientific times, the 
phenomena of nature seem to be the result of forces 
altogether heterogeneous, each taking its course 
quite independently of the others ; and though to 
attribute them to conscious wills is eminently natural, 


the natural tendency is to suppose as many such inde- 
pendent wills as there are distinguishable forces of 
sufficient importance and interest to have been re- 
marked and named. There is no tendency in poly- 
theism as such to transform itself spontaneously into 
monotheism. It is true that in polytheistic systems 
generally the deity whose special attributes inspire 
the greatest degree of awe, is usually supposed to 
have a power of controlling the other deities ; and 
even in the most degraded perhaps of all such systems, 
the Hindoo, adulation heaps upon the divinity who is 
the immediate object of adoration, epithets like those 
habitual to believers in a single God. But there is 
no real acknowledgment of one Governor. Every 
God normally rules his particular department -though 
there may be a still stronger God whose power when 
he chooses to exert it can frustrate the purposes of the 
inferior divinity. There could be no real belief in one 
Creator and Governor until mankind had .begun to 
see in the apparently confused phenomena which sur- 
rounded them, a system capable of being viewed as 
the possible working out of a single plan. This con- 
ception of the world was perhaps anticipated (though 
less frequently than is often supposed) by individuals of 
exceptional genius, but it could only become common 
after a rather long cultivation of scientific thought. 

The special mode in which scientific study operates 
to instil Monotheism in place of the more natural 



Polytheism, is in no way mysterious. The specific 
effect of science is to show by accumulating evidence, 
that every event in nature is connected by laws with 
some fact or facts which preceded it, or in other words, 
depends for its existence on some antecedent; but yet 
not so strictly on one, as not to be liable to frustration 
or modification from others : for these distinct chains 
of causation are so entangled with one another; the 
action of each cause is so interfered with by other 
causes, though each acts according to its own fixed 
law ; that every effect is truly the result rather of the 
aggregate of all causes in existence than of any one 
only; and nothing takes place in the world of our 
experience without spreading a perceptible influence 
of some sort through a greater or less portion of 
Nature, and making perhaps every portion of it 
slightly different from what it would have been if 
that event had not taken place. Now, when once 
the double conviction has found entry into the mind 
that every event depends on antecedents ; and at 
the same time that to bring it about many ante- 
cedents must concur, perhaps all the antecedents in 
Nature, insomuch that a slight difference in any one 
of them might have prevented the phenomenon, or 
materially altered its character the conviction follows 
that no one event, certainly no one kind of events, 
can be absolutely preordained or governed by any 
Being but one who holds in his hand the reins of all 


Nature and not of some department only. At least 
if a plurality be supposed, it is necessary to assume 
so complete a concert of action and unity of will 
among them that the difference is for most purposes 
immaterial between such a theory and that of the 
absolute unity of the Godhead. 

The reason, then, why Monotheism may be ac- 
cepted as the representative of Theism in the abstract, 
is not so much because it is the Theism of all the 
more improved portions of the human race, as because 
it is the only Theism which can claim for itself any 
footing on scientific ground. Every other theory of 
the government of the universe by supernatural 
beings, is inconsistent either with the carrying on 
of that government through a continual series of 
natural antecedents according to fixed laws, or with 
the interdependence of each of these series upon all 
the rest, which are the two most general results of 

Setting out therefore from the scientific view of 
nature as one connected system, or united whole, 
united not like a web composed of separate threads in 
passive juxtaposition with one another, but rather like 
the human or animal frame, an apparatus kept going 
by perpetual action and reaction among all its parts ; 
it must be acknowledged that the question, to which 
Theism is an answer, is at least a very natural one, 
and issues from an obvious want of the human mind. 

x 2 


Accustomed as we are to find, in proportion to our 
means of observation, a definite beginning to each 
individual fact ; and since wherever there is a be- 
ginning we find that there was an antecedent fact 
(called by us a cause), a fact but for which, the phe- 
nomenon which thus commences would not have 
been ; it was impossible that the human mind should 
not ask itself whether the whole, of which these par- 
ticular phenomena are a part, had not also a be- 
ginning, and if so, whether that beginning was not 
an origin ; whether there was not something ante- 
cedent to the whole series of causes and effects that 
we term Nature, and but for which Nature itself 
would not have been. From the first recorded specu- 
lation this question has never remained without an 
hypothetical answer. The only answer which has 
long continued to afford satisfaction is Theism. 

Looking at the problem, as it is our business to do, 
merely as a scientific inquiry, it resolves itself into 
two questions. First : Is the theory, which refers 
the origin of all the phenomena of nature to the will 
of a Creator, consistent or not with the ascertained 
results of science ? Secondly, assuming it to be con- 
sistent, will its proofs bear to be tested by the prin- 
ciples of evidence and canons of belief by which our 
long experience of scientific inquiry has proved the 
necessity of being guided ? 

First, then: there is one conception of Theism 


which is consistent, another which is radically incon- 
sistent, with the most general truths that have been 
made known to us by scientific investigation. 

The one which is inconsistent is the conception of 
a Grod governing the world by acts of variable will. 
The one which is consistent, is the conception of a 
God governing the world by invariable laws. 

The primitive, and even in our own day the vulgar, 
conception of the divine rule, is that the one Grod, 
like the many Grods of antiquity, carries on the govern- 
ment of the world by special decrees, made pro hac 
vice. Although supposed to be omniscient as well as 
omnipotent, he is thought not to make up his mind 
until the moment of action ; or at least not so con- 
clusively, but that his intentions may be altered up 
to the very last moment by appropriate solicitation. 
Without entering into the difficulties of reconciling 
this view of the divine government with the pre- 
science and the perfect wisdom ascribed to the Deity, 
we may content ourselves with the fact that it con- 
tradicts what experience has taught us of the manner 
in which things actually take place. The phenomena 
of Nature do take place according to general laws. 
They do originate from definite natural antecedents. 
Therefore if their ultimate origin is derived from a 
will, that will must have established the general laws 
and willed the antecedents. If there be a Creator, 
his intention must have been that events should de- 


pend upon antecedents and be produced according to 
fixed laws. But this being conceded, there is nothing 
in scientific experience inconsistent with the belief 
that those laws and sequences are themselves due to 
a divine will. Neither are we obliged to suppose 
that the divine will exerted itself once for all, and 
after putting a power into the system which enabled 
it to go on of itself, has ever since let it alone. 
Science contains nothing repugnant to the supposi- 
tion that every event which takes place results from 
a specific volition of the presiding Power, provided 
that this Power adheres in its particular volitions to 
general laws laid down by itself. The common 
opinion is that this hypothesis tends more to the 
glory of the Deity than the supposition that the 
universe was made so that it could go on of itself. 
There have been thinkers however of no ordinary 
eminence (of whom Leibnitz was one) who thought 
the last the only supposition worthy of the Deity, 
and protested against likening God to a clockmaker 
whose clock will not go unless he puts his hand to 
the machinery and keeps it going. With such con- 
siderations we have no concern in this place. We 
are looking at the subject not from the point of 
view of reverence but from that of science ; and with 
science both these suppositions as to the mode of the 
divine action are equally consistent. 

We must now, however, pass to the next question. 


There is nothing to disprove the creation and govern- 
ment of Nature by a sovereign will ; but is there 
anything to prove it? Of what nature are its evi- 
dences; and weighed in the scientific balance, what 
is their value ? 


evidences of a Creator are not only of several 
distinct kinds but of such diverse characters, 
that they are adapted to minds of very different de- 
scriptions, and it is hardly possible for any mind to 
be equally impressed by them all. The familiar 
classification of them into proofs a priori and a pos- 
teriori, marks that when looked at in a purely scien- 
tific view they belong to different schools of thought. 
Accordingly though the unthoughtful believer whose 
creed really rests on authority gives an equal wel- 
come to all plausible arguments in support of the 
belief in which he has been brought up, philosophers 
who have had to make a choice between the a priori 
and the a posteriori methods in general science seldom 
fail, while insisting on one of these modes of support 
for religion, to speak with more or less of disparage- 
ment of the other. It is our duty in the present 
inquiry to maintain complete impartiality and to 


give a fair examination to both. At the same time 
I entertain a strong conviction that one of the two 
modes of argument is in its nature scientific, the 
other not only unscientific but condemned by science. 
The scientific argument is that which reasons from 
the facts and analogies of human experience as a 
geologist does when he infers the past states of our 
terrestrial globe, or an astronomical observer when he 
draws conclusions respecting the physical composition 
of the heavenly bodies. This is the a posteriori 
method, the principal application of which to Theism 
is the argument (as it is called) of design. The mode 
of reasoning which I call unscientific, though in the 
opinion of some thinkers it is also a legitimate mode 
of scientific procedure, is that which infers external 
objective facts from ideas or convictions of our minds. 
I say this independently of any opinion of my own 
respecting the origin of our ideas or convictions ; for 
even if we were unable to point out any manner in 
which the idea of God, for example, can have grown 
up from the impressions of experience, still the idea 
can only prove the idea, and not the objective fact, 
unless indeed the fact is supposed (agreeably to the 
book of Genesis) to have been handed down by tradi- 
tion from a time when there was direct personal 
intercourse with the Divine Being; in which case 
the argument is no longer a priori. The supposition 
that an idea, or a wish, or a need, even if native to 


the mind proves the reality of a corresponding object, 
derives all its plausibility from the belief already in 
our minds that we were made by a benignant Being 
who would not have implanted in us a groundless 
belief, or a want which he did not afford us the 
means of satisfying; and is therefore a palpable 
^petitio principii if adduced as an argument to support 
the very belief which it presupposes. 

At the same time, it must be admitted that all 
a priori systems whether in philosophy or religion, do, 
in some sense profess to be founded on experience, 
since though they affirm the possibility of arriving at 
truths which transcend experience, they yet make the 
facts of experience their starting point (as what other 
starting point is possible ?). They are entitled to 
consideration in so far as it can be shown that experi- 
ence gives any countenance either to them or to their 
method of inquirj^. Professedly a priori arguments are 
not unfrequently of a mixed nature, partaking in some 
degree of the a posteriori character, and may often be said 
to be a posteriori arguments in disguise; the a priori 
considerations acting chiefly in the way of making 
some particular a posteriori argument tell for more 
than its worth. This is emphatically true of the 
argument for Theism which I shall first examine, the 
necessity of a First Cause. For this has in truth a 
wide basis of experience in the universality of the re- 
lation of Cause and Effect among the phenomena of 


nature ; while at the same time, theological philoso- 
phers have not been content to let it rest upon this 
basis, but have affirmed Causation as a truth of reason 
-apprehended intuitively by its own light. 


rPHE argument for a First Cause admits of being, 
and is, presented as a conclusion from the whole 
of human experience. Everything that we know (it 
is argued) had a cause, and owed its existence to that 
cause. How then can it he but that the world, which 
is but a name for the aggregate of all that we know, 
has a cause to which it is indebted for its existence? 

The fact of experience however, when correctly ex- 
pressed, turns out to be, not that everything which we 
know derives its existence from a cause, but only 
every event or change. There is in Nature a perma- 
nent element, and also a changeable : the changes are 
always the effects of previous changes ; the permanent 
existences, so far as we know, are not effects at all. It 
is true we are accustomed to say not only of events, 
but of objects, that they are produced by causes, as 
water by the union of hydrogen and oxygen. But by 
this we only mean that when they begin to exist, their 


beginning is the effect of a cause. But their beginning 
to exist is not an object, it is an event. If it be ob- 
jected that the cause of a thing's beginning to exist 
may be said .with propriety to be the cause of the 
thing itself, I shall not quarrel with the expression. 
But that which in an object begins to exist, is that in 
it which belongs to the changeable element in nature ; 
the outward form and the properties depending on 
mechanical or chemical combinations of its component 
parts. There is in every object another and a perma- 
nent element, viz., the specific elementary substance 
or substances of which it consists and their inherent 
properties. These are not known to us as beginning 
to exist : within the range of human knowledge they 
had no beginning, consequently no cause ; though 
they themselves are causes or con-causes of everything 
that takes place. Experience therefore, affords no 
evidences, not even analogies, to justify our extending 
to the apparently immutable, a generalization grounded 
only on our observation of the changeable. 

As a fact of experience, then, causation cannot 
legitimately be extended to the material universe 
itself, but only to its changeable phenomena; of 
these, indeed, causes may be affirmed without any 
exception. But what causes? The cause of every 
change is a prior change; and such it cannot but 
be; for if there were no new antecedent, there 
would not be a new consequent. If the state of 


facts which, brings the phenomenon into existence,, 
had existed always or for an indefinite duration,, 
the effect also would have existed always or been 
produced an indefinite time ago. It is thus a ne- 
cessary part of the fact of causation, within the 
sphere of our experience, that the causes as well 
as the effects had a beginning in time, and were 
themselves caused. It would seem therefore that- 
our experience, instead of furnishing an argument 
for a first cause, is repugnant to it; and that the 
very essence of causation as it exists within the- 
limits of our knowledge, is incompatible with a 
First Cause. 

But it is necessary to look more particularly into 
the matter, and analyse more closely the nature of 
the causes of which mankind have experience. For 
if it should turn out that though all causes have 
a beginning, there is in all of them a permanent 
element which had no beginning, this permanent 
element may with some justice be termed a first 
or universal cause, inasmuch as though not suffi- 
cient of itself to cause anything, it enters as a 
con- cause into all causation. Now it happens that 
the last result of physical inquiry, derived from 
the converging evidences of all branches of physical 
science, does, if it holds good, land us so far as the 
material world is concerned, in a result of this 
sort. Whenever a physical phenomenon is traced to 


its cause, that cause when analysed is found to be 
a certain quantum of Force, combined with certain 
collocations. And the last great generalization of 
science, the Conservation of Force, teaches us that 
the variety in the effects depends partly upon the 
amount of the force, and partly upon the diversity 
of the collocations. The force itself is essentially 
one and the same ; and there exists of it in nature 
a fixed quantity, which (if the theory be true) is- 
never increased or diminished. Here then we find, 
even in the changes of material nature, a perma- 
nent element; to all appearance the very one of 
which we were in quest. This it is apparently to 
which if to anything we must assign the character 
of First Cause, the cause of the material universe. 
For all effects may be traced up to it, while it cannot 
be traced up, by our experience, to anything beyond : 
its transformations alone can be so traced, and of 
them the cause always includes the force itself: the 
same quantity of force, in some previous form. It 
would seem then that in the only sense in which 
experience supports in any shape the doctrine of a 
First Cause, viz., as the primaeval and universal 
element in all causes, the First Cause can be no 
other than Force. 

We are, however, by no means at the end of the- 
question. On the contrary, the greatest stress of the 
argument is exactly at the point which we have now 


reached. For it is maintained that Mind is the only 
possible cause of Force ; or rather perhaps, that Mind 
is a Force, and that all other force must be derived 
from it inasmuch as mind is the only thing which 
is capable of originating change. This is said to 
be the lesson of human experience. In the pheno- 
mena of inanimate nature the force which works is 
always a pre-existing force, not originated, but trans- 
ferred. One physical object moves another by giving 
out to it the force by which it has first been itself 
moved. The wind communicates to the waves, or 
to a windmill, or a ship, part of the motion which 
has been given to itself by some other agent. In 
voluntary action alone we see a commencement, an 
origination of motion; since all other causes appear 
incapable of this origination experience is in favour 
of the conclusion that all the motion in existence 
owed its beginning to this one cause, voluntary 
agency, if not that of man, then of a more powerful 

This argument is a very old one. It is to be 
found in Plato ; not as might have been expected, 
in the Phsedon, where the arguments are not such 
as would now be deemed of any weight, but in 
his latest production, the Leges. And it is still 
one of the most telling arguments with the more 
metaphysical class of defenders of Natural Theology. 

Now, in the first place, if there be truth in the 


doctrine of the Conservation of Force, in other 
words the constancy of the total amount of Force 
in existence, this doctrine does not change from 
true to false when it reaches the field of voluntary 
agency. The will does not, any more than other 
causes, create Force : granting that it originates 
motion, it has no means of doing so but by con- 
verting into that particular manifestation a portion 
of Force which already existed in other forms. It 
is known that the source from which this portion 
of Force is derived, is chiefly, or entirely, the Force 
evolved in the processes of chemical composition 
and decomposition which constitute the body of 
nutrition : the force so liberated becomes a fund upon 
which every muscular and even every merely nervous 
action, as of the brain in thought, is a draft. It is 
in this sense only that, according to the best lights 
of science, volition is an originating cause. Voli- 
tion, therefore, does not answer to the idea of a 
First Cause; since Force must in every instance be 
assumed as prior to it ; and there is not the slightest 
colour, derived from experience, for supposing Force 
itself to have been created by a volition. As far as 
anything can be concluded from human experience 
Force has all the attributes of a thing eternal 
and uncreated. 

This, however, does not close the discussion. For 
though whatever verdict experience can give in the 



case is against the possibility that will ever originates 
Force, yet if we can be assured that neither does Force 
originate Will, Will must be held to be an agency, if 
not prior io Force yet coeternal with it : and if it be 
true that Will can originate, not indeed Force but the 
transformation of Force from some other of its mani- 
festations into that of mechanical motion, and that 
there is within human experience no other agency 
capable of doing so, the argument for a Will as the 
originator, though not of the universe, yet of the 
kosmos, or order of the universe, remains unanswered. 
But the case thus stated is not conformable to fact. 
Whatever volition can do in the way of creating 
motion out of other forms of force, and generally of 
evolving force from a latent into a visible state, can 
be done by many other causes. Chemical action, for 
instance ; electricity ; heat ; the mere presence of a 
gravitating body ; all these are causes of mechanical 
motion on a far larger scale than any volitions which 
experience presents to us : and in most of the effects 
thus produced the motion given by one body to another, 
is not, as in the ordinary cases of mechanical action, 
motion that has first been given to that other by some 
third body. The phenomenon is not a mere passing 
on of mechanical motion, but a creation of it out of a 
force previously latent or manifesting itself in some 
other form. Volition, therefore, regarded as an agent 
in the material universe, has no exclusive privilege of 


origination : all that it can originate is also original,^ 
by other transforming agents. If it be said that those 
other agents must have had the force they give out 
put into them from elsewhere, I answer, that this is 
no less true of the force which volition disposes of. 
We know that this force conies from an external source, 
ihe chemical action of the food and air. The force by 
which the phenomena of the material world are pro- 
duced, circulates through all physical agencies in a never 
ending though sometimes intermitting stream. I am, 
of course, speaking of volition only in its action on 
the material world. We have nothing to do here 
with the freedom of the will itself as a mental pheno- 
menon with the vexata questio whether volition is 
self- determining or determined by causes. To the 
question now in hand it is only the effects of volition 
that are relevant, not its origin. The assertion is that 
physical nature must have been produced by a Will, 
because nothing but Will is known to us as having 
the power of originating the production of phenomena, 
We have seen that, on the contrary, all the power 
that Will possesses over phenomena is shared, as far 
as we have the means of judging, by other and much 
more powerful agents, and that in the only sense in 
which those agents do not originate, neither does 
Will originate. No prerogative, therefore, can, on the 
ground of experience, be assigned to volition above 
other natural agents, as a producing cause of pheno- 

L 2 


mena. All that can be affirmed by the strongest 
assert or of the Freedom of the Will, is that volitions 
are themselves uncaused and are therefore alone fit to 
be the first or universal Cause. But, even assuming 
volitions to be uncaused, the properties of matter, so far 
as experience discloses, are uncaused also, and have the 
advantage over any particular volition, in being so far 
as experience can show, eternal. Theism, therefore, 
in so far as it rests on the necessity of a First Cause, 
has no support from experience. 

To those who, in default of Experience, consider the 
necessity of a first cause as matter of intuition, I would 
say that it is needless, in this discussion, to contest 
their premises ; since admitting that there is and 
must be a First Cause, it has now been shown that 
several other agencies than Will can lay equal claim 
to that character. One thing only may be said which 
requires notice here. Among the facts of the universe 
to be accounted for, it may be said, is Mind ; and it 
is self-evident that nothing can have produced Mind 
but Mind. 

The special indications that Mind is deemed to give, 
pointing to intelligent contrivance, belong to a diffe- 
rent portion of this inquiry. But if the mere exist- 
ence of Mind is supposed to require, as a necessary 
antecedent, another Mind greater and more powerful, 
the difficulty is not removed by going one step back : 
the creating mind stands as much in need of another 


mind to be the source of its existence, as the created 
mind. Be it remembered that we have no direct 
knowledge (at least apart from Eevelation) of a Mind 
which is even apparently eternal, as Force and Matter 
are : an eternal mind is, as far as the present argu- 
ment is concerned, a simple hypothesis to account for 
the minds which we know to exist. Now it is essen- 
tial to an hypothesis that if admitted it should at 
least remove the difficulty and account for the facts. 
But it does not account for Mind to refer one mind to 
a prior mind for its origin. The problem remains 
unsolved, the difficulty undiminished, nay, rather in- 

To this it may be objected that the causation of 
every human mind is matter of fact, since we know 
that it had a beginning in time. We even know, or 
have the strongest grounds for believing that the 
human species itself had a beginning in time. For 
there is a vast amount of evidence that the state of 
our planet was once such as to be incompatible with 
animal life, and that human life is of very much more 
modern origin than animal life. In any case, there- 
fore, the fact must be faced that there must have been 
a cause which called the first human mind, nay the 
very first germ of organic life, into existence. No 
such difficulty exists in the supposition of an Eternal 
Mind. If we did not know that Mind on our earth 
began to exist, we might suppose it to be uncaused ; 


and we may still suppose tliis of the mind to which 
we ascribe its existence. 

To take this ground is to return into the field of 
human experience, and to become subject to its canons, 
and we are then entitled to ask where is the proof 
that nothing can have caused a mind except another 
mind. Eroni what, except from experience, can we 
know what can produce what what causes are 
adequate to what effects ? That nothing can. 
consciously produce Mind but Mind, is self-evident, 
being involved in the meaning of the words; but 
that there cannot be unconscious production must 
not be assumed, for it is the very point to be proved. 
Apart from experience, and arguing on what is 
called reason, that is on supposed self-evidence, the 
notion seems to be, that no causes can give rise to 
products of a more precious or elevated kind than 
themselves. But this is at variance with the known 
analogies of Nature. How vastly nobler and more 
precious, for instance, are the higher vegetables and 
animals than the soil and manure out of which, and 
by the properties of which they are raised up ! The 
tendency of all recent speculation is towards the 
opinion that the development of inferior orders of 
existence into superior, the substitution of greater 
elaboration and higher organization for lower, is the 
general rule of Nature. Whether it is so or not, 
there are at least in Nature a multitude of facts bear- 


ing that character, and this is sufficient for the argu- 

Here, then, this part of the discussion may stop. 
The result it leads to is that the First Cause argu- 
ment is in itself of no value for the establishment of 
Theism : because no cause is needed for the existence 
of that which has no beginning; and both 
Matter and Force (whatever metaphysical theory we 
may give of the one or the other) have had, so far as 
our experience can teach us, no beginning which 
cannot be said of Mind. The phenomena or changes 
in the universe have indeed each of them a beginning 
and a cause, but their cause is always a prior change ; 
nor do the analogies of experience give us any reason 
to expect, from the mere occurrence of changes, that 
if we could trace back the series far enough we should 
arrive at a Primaeval Volition. The world does not, 
by its mere existence, bear witness to a God : if it 
gives indications of one, these must be given by the 
special nature of the phenomena, by what they pre- 
sent that resembles adaptation to an end : of which 
hereafter. If, in default of evidence from experience, 
the evidence of intuition is relied upon, it may be 
answered that if Mind, as Mind, presents intuitive 
evidence of having been created, the Creative Mind 
must do the same, and we are no nearer to the First 
Cause than before. But if there be nothing in the 
nature of mind which in itself implies a Creator, the 


minds which have a beginning in time, as all minds 
have which are known to our experience, must indeed 
have been caused, but it is not necessary that their 
cause should have been a prior Intelligence. 


"DEFOEE proceeding to the argument from Marks 
of Design, which, as it seems to me, must always 
be the main strength of Natural Theism, we may 
dispose briefly of some other arguments which are of 
little scientific weight but which have greater influence 
on the human mind than much better arguments, 
because they are appeals to authority, and it is by 
authority that the opinions of the bulk of mankind 
are principally and not unnaturally governed. The 
authority invoked is that of mankind generally, and 
specially of some of its wisest men ; particularly such 
as were in other respects conspicuous examples of 
breaking loose from received prejudices. Socrates 
and Plato, Bacon, Locke, and Newton, Descartes and 
Leibnitz, are common examples. 

It may doubtless be good advice to persons who in 
point of knowledge and cultivation are not entitled to 
think themselves competent judges of difficult questions, 


to bid them content themselves with holding that true 
which mankind generally believe, and so long as they 
believe it ; or that which has been believed by those 
who pass for the most eminent among the minds of 
the past. But to a thinker the argument from other 
people's opinions has little weight. It is but second- 
hand evidence; and merely admonishes us to look 
out for and weigh the reasons on which this con- 
viction of mankind or of wise men was founded. 
Accordingly, those who make any claim to philo- 
sophic treatment of the subject, employ this general 
consent chiefly as evidence that there is in the mind 
of man an intuitive perception, or an instinctive 
sense, of Deity. From the generality of the belief, 
they infer that it is inherent in our constitution ;. 
from which they draw the conclusion, a precarious 
one indeed, but conformable to the general mode of 
proceeding of the intuitive philosophy, that the belief 
must be true ; though as applied to Theism this argu^ 
ment begs the question, since it has itself nothing to 
rest upon but the belief that the human mind was 
made by a- God, who would not deceive his creatures. 
But, indeed, what ground does the general pre- 
valence of the belief in Deity afford us for inferring 
that this belief is native to the human mind, and 
independent of evidence ? Is it then so very devoid 
of evidence, even apparent? Has it so little sem- 
blance of foundation in fact, that it can only be ac- 


counted for by the supposition of its being innate? 
We should not expect to find Theists believing that 
the appearances in Nature of a contriving Intelligence 
are not only insufficient but are not even plausible, 
and cannot be supposed to have carried conviction 
either to the general or to the wiser mind. If there 
are external evidences of theism, even if not perfectly 
conclusive, why need we suppose that the belief of 
its truth was the result of anything else? The 
superior minds to whom an appeal is made, from 
Socrates downwards, when they professed to give the 
grounds of their opinion, did not say that they found 
the belief in themselves without knowing from whence 
it came, but ascribed it, if not to revelation, either 
to some metaphysical argunlent, or to those very 
external evidences which are the basis of the argu- 
ment from Design. 

If it be said that the belief in Deity is universal 
among barbarous tribes, and among the ignorant por- 
tion of civilized populations, who cannot be supposed 
to have been impressed by the marvellous adaptations 
of Nature most of which are unknown to them ; I 
answer, that the ignorant in civilized countries take 
their opinions from the educated, and that in the 
case of savages, if the evidence is insufficient, so is 
the belief. The religious belief of savages is not be- 
lief in the God of Natural Theology, but a mere mo- 
dification of the crude generalization which ascribes 


life, consciousness and will to all natural powers of 
which they cannot perceive the source or control the 
operation. And the divinities believed in are as 
numerous as those powers. Each river, fountain or 
tree has a divinity of its own. To see in this blunder 
of primitive ignorance the hand of the Supreme 
Being implanting in his creatures an instinctive 
knowledge of his existence, is a poor compliment to 
the Deity. The religion of savages is Fetichism of 
the grossest kind, ascribing animation and will to 
individual objects, and seeking to propitiate them by 
prayer and sacrifice. That this should be the case is 
the less surprising when we remember that there is 
not a definite boundary line, broadly separating the 
conscious human being from inanimate objects. Be- 
tween these and man there is an intermediate class of 
objects, sometimes much more powerful than man, 
which do possess life and will, viz. the brute animals, 
which in an early stage of existence play a very great 
part in human life ; making it the less surprising that 
the line should not at first be quite distinguishable be- 
tween the animate and the inanimate part of Nature. 
As observation advances, it is perceived that the 
majority of outward objects have all their important 
qualities in common with entire classes or groups of 
objects which comport themselves exactly alike in the 
same circumstances, and in these cases the worship of 
visible objects is exchanged for that of an invisible 


Being supposed to preside over the whole class. This 
step in generalization is slowly made, with hesitation 
and even terror ; as we still see in the case of ignorant 
populations with what difficulty experience disabuses 
them of belief in the supernatural powers and terrible 
resentment of a particular idol. Chiefly by these 
terrors the religious impressions of barbarians are kept 
alive, with only slight modifications, until the Theism 
of cultivated minds is ready to take their place. And 
the Theism of cultivated minds, if we take their own 
word for it, is always a conclusion either from argu- 
ments called rational, or from the appearances in 

It is needless here to dwell upon the difficulty of 
the hypothesis of a natural belief not common to all 
human beings, an instinct not universal. It is con- 
ceivable, doubtless, that some men might be born 
without a particular natural faculty, as some are born 
without a particular sense. But when this is the 
case we ought to be much more particular as to the 
proof that it really is a natural faculty. If it were 
not a matter of observation but of speculation that 
men can see ; if they had no apparent organ of sight, 
and no perceptions or knowledge but such as they 
might conceivably have acquired by some circuitous 
process through their other senses, the fact that men 
exist who do not even suppose themselves to see, 
would be a considerable argument against the theory 


of a visual sense. But it would carry us too far to 
press, for the purposes of this discussion, an argu- 
ment which applies so largely to the whole of the 
intuitional philosophy. The strongest Intuitionist 
will not maintain that a belief should be held for 
instinctive when evidence (real or apparent), sufficient 
to engender it, is universally admitted to exist. To 
the force of the evidence must be, in this case, added 
all the emotional or moral causes which incline men 
to the belief; the satisfaction which it gives to the 
obstinate questionings with which men torment 
themselves respecting the past; the hopes which it 
opens for the future ; the fears also, since fear as well 
as hope predisposes to belief; and to these in the 
case of the more active spirits must always have 
been added a perception of the power which belief in 
the supernatural affords for governing mankind, 
either for their own good, or for the selfish purposes 
of the governors. 

The general consent of mankind does not, there- 
fore, afford ground for admitting, even as an hypo- 
thesis, the origin in an inherent law of the human 
mind, of a fact otherwise so more than sufficiently, so 
amply, accounted for. 


have been numerous arguments, indeed 
almost every religious metaphysician has one of 
his own, to prove the existence and attributes of God 
from what are called truths of reason, supposed to be 
independent of experience. Descartes, who is the 
real founder of the intuitional metaphysics, draws the 
conclusion immediately from the first premise of his 
philosophy, the celebrated assumption that whatever 
he could very clearly and distinctly apprehend, must 
be true. The idea of a God, perfect in power, 
wisdom, and goodness, is a clear and distinct idea, 
and must therefore, on this principle correspond to a 
real object. This bold generalization, however, that 
a conception of the human mind proves its own 
objective reality, Descartes is obliged to limit by the 
-qualification " if the idea includes existence." Now 
the idea of God implying the union of all perfections, 
and existence being a perfection, the idea of God 


proves his existence. This very simple argument, 
which denies to man one of his most familiar and 
most precious attributes, that of idealizing as it is 
called of constructing from the materials of ex- 
perience a conception more perfect than experience 
itself affords is not likely to satisfy any one in the 
present day. More elaborate, though scarcely more 
successful efforts, have been made by many of 
Descartes' successors, to derive knowledge of the 
Deity from an inward light : to make it a truth not 
dependent on external evidence, a fact of direct per- 
ception, or, as they are accustomed to call it, of 
consciousness. The philosophical world is familiar 
with the attempt of Cousin to make out that when- 
ever we perceive a particular object, we perceive 
along with it, or are conscious of, God ; and also with 
the celebrated refutation of this doctrine by Sir 
William Hamilton. It would be waste of time to ex- 
amine any of these theories in detail. While each has 
its own particular logical fallacies, they labour under 
the common infirmity, that one man cannot by pro- 
claiming with ever so much confidence that lie 
perceives an object, convince other people that they 
see it too. If, indeed, he laid claim to a divine 
faculty of vision, vouchsafed to him alone, and 
making him cognizant of things which men not 
thus assisted have not the capacity to see, the case 
might be different. Men have been able to get such 


claims admitted ; and other people can only require 
of them to show their credentials. But when no 
claim is set up to any peculiar gift, but we are told 
that all of us are as capable as the prophet of seeing 
what he sees, feeling what he feels, nay, that we 
actually do so, and when the utmost effort of which 
we are capable fails to make us aware of what we are 
told we perceive, this supposed universal faculty of 
intuition is but 

" The dark lantern of the Spirit 
Which none see by but those who bear it :" 

and the bearers may fairly be asked to consider 
whether it is not more likely that they are mistaken 
as to the origin of an impression in their minds, than 
that others are ignorant of the very existence of an 
impression in theirs. 

The inconclusiveness, in a speculative point of 
view, of all arguments from the subjective notion of 
Deity to its objective reality, was well seen by 
Kant, the most discriminating of the a priori 
metaphysicians, who always kept the two questions, 
the origin and composition of our ideas, and the 
reality of the corresponding objects, perfectly dis- 
tinct. According to Kant the idea of the Deity 
is native to the mind, in the sense that it is con- 
structed by the mind's own laws and not derived 
from without : but this Idea of Speculative Eeason 
cannot be shown by any logical process or perceived 



by direct apprehension, to have a corresponding- 
Eeality outside the human mind. To Kant, God 
is neither an object of direct consciousness nor a 
conclusion of reasoning, but a Necessary Assump- 
tion ; necessary, not by a logical, but a practical 
necessity, imposed by the reality of the Moral Law. 
Duty is a fact of consciousness : " Thou shalt " is 
a command issuing from the recesses of our being, 
and not to be accounted for by any impressions 
derived from experience; and this command requires 
a commander, though it is not perfectly clear 
whether Kant's meaning is that conviction of a law 
includes conviction of a lawgiver, or only that a 
Being of whose will the law is an expression, is 
eminently desirable. If the former be intended, 
the argument is founded on a double meaning of 
the word Law. A rule to which we feel it a duty 
to conform has in common with laws commonly 
so called, the fact of claiming our obedience ; but 
it does not follow that the rule must originate, 
like the laws of the land, in the will of a legislator 
or legislators external to the mind. We may even 
say that a feeling of obligation which is merely 
the result of a command is not what is meant by 
moral obligation, which, on the contrary, supposes 
something that the internal conscience bears witness 
to as binding in its own nature; and which God, 
in superadding his command, conforms to and per- 


haps declares, but does not create. Conceding, then, 
for the sake of the argument, that the moral sen- 
timent is as purely of the mind's own growth, 
the obligation of duty as entirely independent of 
experience and acquired impressions, as Kant or 
any other metaphysician ever contended, it may yet 
be maintained that this feeling of obligation rather 
excludes, than compels, the belief in a Divine legis- 
lator merely as the source of the obligation: and 
as a matter of fact, the obligation of duty is both 
theoretically acknowledged and practically felt in the 
fullest manner by many who have no positive belief 
in God, though seldom, probably, without habitual 
and familiar reference to him as an ideal conception. 
But if the existence of God as a wise and just 
lawgiver, is not a necessary part of the feelings of 
morality, it may still be maintained that those feelings 
make his existence eminently desirable. "No doubt 
they do, and that is the great reason why we 
find that good men and women cling to the belief, 
and are pained by its being questioned. But surely 
it is not legitimate to assume that in the order 
of the Universe, whatever is desirable is true. Opti- 
mism, even when a God is already believed in, is 
a thorny doctrine to maintain, and had to be taken 
by Leibnitz in the limited sense, that the universe 
being made by a good being, is the best universe 
possible, not the best absolutely: that the Divine 

M 2 


power, in short, was not equal to making it more 
free from imperfections than it is. But optimism 
prior to belief in a God, and as the ground of that 
belief, seems one of the oddest of all speculative 
delusions. Nothing, however, I believe, contributes 
more to keep up the belief in the general mind of 
humanity than this feeling of its desirableness, which, 
when clothed, as it very often is, in the forms of an 
argument, is a naif expression of the tendency of the 
human mind to believe what is agreeable to it. 
Positive value the argument of course has none. 

Without dwelling further on these or on any 
other of the a priori arguments for Theism, we will 
no longer delay passing to the far more important 
argument of the appearances of Contrivance in Nature. 


TT7E now at last reach, an argument of a really 
scientific character, which does not shrink from 
scientific tests, but claims to be judged by the 
established canons of Induction. The Design argu- 
ment is wholly grounded on experience. Certain 
qualities, it is alleged, are found to be characteristic 
of such things as are made by an intelligent mind 
for a purpose. The order of Nature, or some con- 
siderable parts of it, exhibit these qualities in a 
remarkable degree. We are entitled, from this great 
similarity in the effects, to infer similarity in the 
cause, and to believe that things which it is beyond 
the power of man to make, but which resemble the 
works of man in all but power, must also have been 
made by Intelligence, armed with a power greater 
than human. 

I have stated this argument in its fullest strength, 
as it is stated by its most thoroughgoing assertors. 


A very litfie consideration, however, suffices to show 
that though it has some force, its force is very 
generally overrated. Paley's illustration of a watch 
puts the case much too strongly. If I found a watch 
on an apparently desolate island, I should indeed 
infer that it had been left there by a human being ; 
but the inference would not be from marks of design, 
but because I already knew by direct experience that 
watches are made by men. I should draw the in- 
ference no less confidently from a foot print, or from 
any relic however insignificant which experience has 
taught me to attribute to man : as geologists infer 
the past existence of animals from coprolites, though 
no one sees marks of design in a coprolite. The 
evidence of design in creation can never reach the 
height of direct induction ; it amounts only to the 
inferior kind of inductive evidence called analogy. 
Analogy agrees with induction in this, that they 
both argue that a thing known to resemble another 
in certain circumstances (call those circumstances A 
and B) will resemble it in another circumstance (call 
it C). But the difference is that in induction, A and 
B are known, by a previous comparison of many 
instances, to be the very circumstances on which C 
depends, or with which it is in some way connected. 
When this has not been ascertained, the argument 
amounts only to this, that since it is not known with 
which of the circumstances existing in the known 


case C is connected, they may as well be A and B 
as any others ; and therefore there is a greater 
probability of C in cases where we know that A and 
B exist, than in cases of which we know nothing at 
all. This argument is of a weight very difficult 
to estimate at all, and impossible to estimate pre- 
cisely. It may be very strong, when the known 
points of agreement, A and B &c. are numerous 
and the known points of difference few; or very 
weak, when the reverse is the case : but ifc can never 
be equal in validity to a real induction. The resem- 
blances between some of the arrangements in nature 
and some of those made by man are considerable, and 
even as mere resemblances afford a certain presump- 
tion of similarity of cause : but how great that 
presumption is, it is hard to say. All that can be 
said with certainty is that these likenesses make 
creation by intelligence considerably more probable 
than if the likenesses had been less, or than if there 
had been no likenesses at all. 

This mode, however, of stating the case does not do 
full justice to the evidence of Theism. The Design 
argument is not drawn from mere resemblances in 
Nature to the works of human intelligence, but from 
the special character of those resemblances. The cir- 
cumstances in which it is alleged that the world re- 
sembles the works of man are not circumstances taken at 
random, but are particular instances of a circumstance 


which experience shows to have a real connection with 
an intelligent origin, the fact of conspiring to an end. 
The argument therefore is not one of mere analogy. 
As mere analogy it has its weight, but it is more than 
analogy. It surpasses analogy exactly as induction 
surpasses it. It is an inductive argument. 

This, I think, is undeniable, and it remains to test 
the argument by the logical principles applicable to 
Induction. For this purpose it will be convenient to 
handle, not the argument as a whole, but some one of 
the most impressive cases of it, such as the structure 
of the eye, or of the ear. It is maintained that the 
structure of the eye proves a designing mind. To 
what class of inductive arguments does this belong ? 
and what is its degree of force ? 

The species of inductive arguments are four in 
number, corresponding to the four Inductive Methods ; 
the Methods of Agreement, of Difference, of Eesidues, 
and of Concomitant Variations. The argument under 
consideration falls within the first of these divisions, 
the Method of Agreement. This is, for reasons known 
to inductive logicians, the weakest of the four, but the 
particular argument is a strong one of the kind. It 
may be logically analysed as follows : 

The parts of which the eye is composed, and the 
collocations which constitute the arrangement of those 
parts, resemble one another in this very remarkable 
property, that they all conduce to enabling the anim al 


to see. These things being as they are, the animal 
sees : if any one of them were different from what it is, 
the animal, for the most part, would either not see, or 
would not see equally well. And this is the only 
marked resemblance that we can trace among the dif- 
ferent parts of this structure, beyond the general 
likeness of composition and organization which exists 
among all other parts of the animal. Now the parti- 
cular combination of organic elements called an eye had, 
in every instance, a beginning in time and must there- 
fore have been brought together by a cause or causes. 
The number of instances is immeasurably greater 
than is, by the principles of inductive logic, required 
for the exclusion of a random concurrence of inde- 
pendent causes, or speaking technically, for the elimi- 
nation of chance. We are therefore warranted by the 
canons of induction in concluding that what brought 
all these elements together was some cause common to 
them all ; and inasmuch as the elements agree in the 
single circumstance of conspiring to produce sight, 
there must be some connection by way of causation 
between the cause which brought those elements 
together, and the fact of sight. 

This I conceive to be a legitimate inductive infer- 
ence, and the sum and substance of what Induction 
can do for Theism. The natural sequel of the argu- 
ment would be this. Sight, being a fact not precedent 
but subsequent to the putting together of the organic 


structure of the eye, can only be connected with the 
production of that structure in the character of a final, 
not an efficient cause ; that is, it is not Sight itself 
but an antecedent Idea of it, that must be the efficient 
cause. But this at once marks the origin as proceeding 
from an intelligent will. 

I regret to say, however, that this latter half of the 
argument is not so inexpugnable as the former half. 
Creative forethought is not absolutely the only link 
by which the origin of the wonderful mechanism of 
the eye may be connected with the fact of sight. There 
is another connecting link on which attention has 
been greatly fixed by recent speculations, and the 
reality of which cannot be called in question, though 
its adequacy to account for such truly admirable com- 
binations as some of those in Nature, is still and will 
probably long remain problematical. This is the prin- 
ciple of " the survival of the fittest." 

This principle does not pretend to account for the 
commencement of sensation or of animal or vegetable 
life. But assuming the existence of some one or more 
very low forms of organic life, in which there are no 
complex adaptations nor any marked appearances of 
contrivance, and supposing, as experience warrants us 
in doing, that many small variations from those simple 
types would be thrown out in all directions, which would 
be transmissible by inheritance, and of which some 
would be advantageous to the creature in its struggle 


for existence and others disadvantageous, the forms 
which are advantageous would always tend to survive 
and those which are disadvantageous to perish. And 
thus there would be a constant though slow general 
improvement of the type as it branched out into 
many different varieties, adapting it to different media 
and modes of existence, until it might possibly, in 
countless ages, attain to the most advanced examples 
which now exist. 

It must be acknowledged that there is something 
very startling, and prima facie improbable in this 
hypothetical history of Nature. It would require us, 
for example, to suppose that the primaeval animal of 
whatever nature it may have been, could not see, and 
had at most such slight preparation for seeing as 
might be constituted by some chemical action of 
light upon its cellular structure. One of the acci- 
dental variations which are liable to take place in 
all organic beings would at some time or other pro- 
duce a variety that could see, in some imperfect man- 
ner, and this peculiarity being transmitted by inherit- 
ance, while other variations continued to take place in 
other directions, a number of races would be produced 
who, by the power of even imperfect sight, would 
have a great advantage over all other creatures which 
could not see and would in time extirpate them from 
all places, except, perhaps, a few very peculiar situ- 
ations underground. Fresh variations supervening 


would give rise to races with better and better seeing 
powers until we might at last reach as extraordinary 
a combination of structures and functions as are seen 
in the eye of man and of the more important animals. 
Of this theory when pushed to this extreme point, all 
that can now be said is that it is not so absurd as it 
looks, and that tte analogies which have been dis- 
covered in experience, favourable to its possibility, 
far exceed what any one could have supposed before- 
hand. Whether it will ever be possible to say more 
than this, is at present uncertain. The theory if 
admitted would be in no way whatever inconsistent 
with Creation. But it must be acknowledged that it 
would greatly attenuate the evidence for it. 

Leaving this remarkable speculation to whatever 
fate the progress of discovery may have in store for 
it, I think it must be allowed that, in the present 
state of our knowledge, the adaptations in Nature 
afford a large balance of probability in favour of 
creation by intelligence. It is equally certain that 
this is no more than a probability; and that the 
various other arguments of Natural Theology which we 
have considered, add nothing to its force. Whatever 
ground there is, revelation apart, to believe in an 
Author of Nature, is derived from the appearances in 
the universe. Their mere resemblance to the works 
of man, or to what man could do if he had the same 
power over the materials of organized bodies which 


he has over the materials of a watch, is of some value 
as an argument of analogy : but the argument is 
greatly strengthened by the properly inductive con- 
siderations which establish that there is some con- 
nection through causation between the origin of the 
arrangements of nature and the ends they fulfil ; an 
argument which is in many cases slight, but in others, 
and chiefly in the nice and intricate combinations of 
vegetable and animal life, is of considerable strength. 



question of the existence of a Deity, in its 
purely scientific aspect, standing as is shown in 
the First Part, it is next to be considered, given the 
indications of a Deity, what sort of a Deity do they 
point to ? What attributes are we warranted, by the 
evidence which Nature affords of a creative mind, in 
assigning to that mind ? 

It needs no showing that the power if not the 
intelligence, must be so far superior to that of Man, 
as to surpass all human estimate. But from this to 
Omnipotence and Omniscience there is a wide interval. 
And the distinction is of immense practical im- 

It is not too much to say that every indication of 
Design in the Kosmos is so much evidence against the 
Omnipotence of the Designer. For what is meant by 
Design ? Contrivance : the adaptation of means to> 
an end. But the necessity for contrivance the need 


of employing means is a consequence of the limitation 
of power. "Who would have recourse to means if to 
attain his ' end his mere word was sufficient ? The 
very idea of means implies that the means have an 
efficacy which the direct action of the being who 
employs them has not. Otherwise they are not means, 
but an incumbrance. A man does not use machinery 
to move his arms. If he did, it could only be when 
paralysis had deprived him of the power of moving 
them by volition. But if the employment of 
contrivance is in itself a sign of limited power, how 
much more so is the careful and skilful choice of 
contrivances? Can any wisdom be shown in the 
selection of means, when the means have no efficacy 
but what is given them by the will of him who employs 
them, and when his will could have bestowed the same 
efficacy on any other means ? Wisdom and contrivance 
are shown in overcoming difficulties, and there is no- 
room for them in a Being for whom no difficulties exist. 
The evidences, therefore, of Natural Theology distinctly 
imply that the author of the Kosmos worked under 
limitations ; that he was obliged to adapt himself to 
conditions independent of his will, and to attain his 
ends by such arrangements as those conditions 
admitted of. 

And this hypothesis agrees with what we have seen 
to be the tendency of the evidences in another respect. 
We found that the appearances in Nature point indeed 


to an origin of the Kosmos, or order in Nature, and 
indicate that origin to be Design but do not point to 
any commencement, still less creation, of the two great 
elements of the Universe, the passive element and the 
active element, Matter and Force. There is in Nature 
no reason whatever to suppose that either Matter or 
Force, or any of their properties, were made by the 
Being who was the author of the collocations by which 
the world is adapted to what we consider as its 
purposes ; or that he has power to alter any of those 
properties. It is only when we consent to entertain 
this negative supposition that there arises a need for 
wisdom and contrivance in the order of the universe. 
The Deity had on this hypothesis to work out his ends 
by combining materials of a given nature and 
properties. Out of these materials he had to construct 
a world in which his designs should be carried into 
effect through given properties of Matter and Force, 
working together and fitting into one another. This 
did require skill and contrivance, and the means by 
which it is effected are often such as justly excite our 
wonder and admiration : but exactly because it requires 
wisdom, it implies limitation of power, or rather the 
two phrases express different sides of the same fact. 

If it be said, that an Omnipotent Creator, though 
under no necessity of employing contrivances such 
as man must use, thought fit to do so in order to 
leave traces by which man might recognize his crea- 


tive hand, the answer is that this equally supposes a 
limit to his omnipotence. For if it was his will that 
men should know that they themselves and the world 
are his work, he, being omnipotent, had only to 
will that they should be aware of it. Ingenious men 
have sought for reasons why God might choose to 
leave his existence so far a matter of doubt that men 
should not be under an absolute necessity of knowing 
it, as they are of knowing that three and two make 
five. These imagined reasons are very unfortunate 
specimens of casuistry ; but even did we admit their 
validity, they are of no avail on the supposition of 
omnipotence, since if it did not. please God to 
implant in man a complete conviction of his exist- 
ence, nothing hindered him from making the convic- 
tion fall short of completeness by any margin he 
chose to leave. It is usual to dispose of arguments 
of this description by the easy answer, that we do not 
know what wise reasons the Omniscient may have 
had for leaving undone things which he had the 
power to do. It is not perceived that this plea itself 
implies a limit to Omnipotence. When a thing is 
obviously good and obviously in accordance with 
what all the evidences of creation imply to have been 
the Creator's design, and we say we do not know 
what good reason he may have had for not doing it, 
we mean that we do not know to what other, still 
better object to what object still more completely in 



the line of his purposes, he may have seen fit to 
postpone it. But the necessity of postponing one 
thing to another belongs only to limited power. 
Omnipotence could have made the objects compatible. 
Omnipotence does not need to weigh one considera- 
tion against another. If the Creator, like a human 
ruler, had to adapt himself to a set of conditions 
which he did not make, it is as unphilosophical as 
presumptuous in us to call him to account for any 
imperfections in his work ; to complain that he left 
anything in it contrary to what, if the indications of 
design prove anything, he must have intended. 
He must at least know more than we know, and we 
cannot judge what greater good would have had to be 
sacrificed, or what greater evil incurred, if he had 
decided to remove this particular blot. Not so if he 
be omnipotent. If he be that, he must himself have 
willed that the two desirable objects should be incom- 
patible ; he must himself have willed that the ob- 
stacle to his supposed design should be insuperable. 
It cannot therefore be his design. It will not do to 
say that it was, but that he had other designs which 
interfered with it ; for no one purpose imposes neces- 
sary limitations on another in the case of a Being 
not restricted by conditions of possibility. 

Omnipotence, therefore, cannot be predicated of 
the Creator on grounds of natural theology. The 
fundamental principles of natural religion as deduced 


from the facts of the universe, negative his omni- 
potence. They do not, in the same manner, exclude 
omniscience : if we suppose limitation of power, 
there is nothing to contradict the supposition of 
perfect knowledge and absolute wisdom. But neither 
is there anything to prove it. The knowledge of 
the powers and properties of things necessary for 
planning and executing the arrangements of the 
Kosmos, is no doubt as much in excess of human 
knowledge as the power implied in creation is in 
excess of human power. And the skill, the subtlety 
of contrivance, the ingenuity as it would be called 
in the case of a human work, is often marvellous. 
But nothing obliges us to suppose that either the 
knowledge or the skill is infinite. We are not even 
compelled to suppose that the contrivances were 
always the best possible. If we venture to judge 
them as we judge the works of human artificers, we 
find abundant defects. The human body, for ex- 
ample, is one of the most striking instances of artful 
and ingenious contrivance which nature offers, but 
we may well ask whether so complicated a machine 
could not have been made to last longer, and not 
to get so easily and frequently out of order. We 
may ask why the human race should have been so 
constituted as to grovel in wretchedness and degra- 
dation for countless ages before a small portion of 
it was enabled to lift itself into the very imperfect 


state of intelligence, goodness and happiness which 
we enjoy. The divine power may not have been 
equal to doing more ; the obstacles to a better ar- 
rangement of things may have been insuperable. 
But it is also possible that they were not. The skill 
of the Demiourgos was sufficient to produce what 
we see ; but we cannot tell that this skill reached 
the extreme limit of perfection compatible with the 
material it employed and the forces it had to work 
with. I know not how we can even satisfy ourselves 
on grounds of natural theology, that the Creator 
foresees all the future ; that he foreknows all the 
effects that will issue from his own contrivances. 
There may be great wisdom without the power of 
foreseeing and calculating everything : and human 
workmanship teaches us the possibility that the 
workman's knowledge of the properties of the things 
he works on may enable him to make arrangements 
admirably fitted to produce a given result, while he 
may have very little power of foreseeing the agencies 
of another kind which may modify or counteract 
the operation of the machinery he has made. Per- 
haps a knowledge of the laws of nature on which^ 
organic life depends, not much more perfect than 
the knowledge which man even now possesses of 
some other natural laws, would enable man, if he 
had the same power over the materials and the forces 
concerned which he has over some of those of 


inanimate nature, to create organized beings not less 
wonderful nor less adapted to their conditions of 
existence than those in Nature. 

Assuming then that while we confine ourselves to 
Natural Eeligion we must rest content with a Creator 
less than Almighty ; the question presents itself, of 
what nature is the limitation of his power? Does 
the obstacle at which the power of the Creator stops, 
which says to it : Thus far shalt thou go and no 
further, lie in the power of other Intelligent Beings ; 
or in the insufficiency and refractoriness of the materials 
of the universe ; or must we resign ourselves to ad- 
mitting the hypothesis that the author of the Kosmos, 
though wise and knowing, was not all-wise and all- 
knowing, and may not always have done the best 
that was possible under the conditions of the 
problem ? 

The first of these suppositions has until, a very 
recent period been and in many quarters still is, 
the prevalent theory even of Christianity. Though 
attributing, and in a certain sense sincerely, omni- 
potence to the Creator, the received religion represents 
him as for some inscrutable reason tolerating the per- 
petual counteraction of his purposes by the will oi 
another Being of opposite character and of great 
though inferior power, the Devil. The only difference, 
on this matter between popular Christianity and the 
religion of Ormuzd and Ahriman, is that the former 


pays its good Creator the bad compliment of having 
been the maker of the Devil and of being at all times 
able to crush and annihilate him and his evil deeds 
and counsels, which nevertheless he does not do. But, 
as I have already remarked, all forms of polytheism, 
and this among the rest, are with difficulty recon- 
cileable with an universe governed by general laws. 
Obedience to law is the note of a settled government, 
and not of a conflict always going on. When powers 
are at war with one another for the rule of the world, 
the boundary between them is not fixed but constantly 
fluctuating. This may seem to be the case on our 
planet as between the powers of good and evil when 
we look only at the results ; but when we consider the 
inner springs, we find that both the good and the evil 
take place in the common course of nature, by virtue 
of the same general laws originally impressed the 
same machinery turning out now good, now evil 
things, and oftener still, the two combined. The 
division of power is only apparently variable, but 
really so regular that, were we speaking of human 
potentates, we should declare without hesitation that 
the share of each must have been fixed by previous 
consent. Upon that supposition indeed, the result of 
the combination of antagonist forces misrht be much 

o o 

the same as on that of a single creator with divided 

But when we come to consider, not what hypothesis 


may be conceived, and possibly reconciled with known 
facts, but what supposition is pointed to by the evi- 
dences of natural religion ; the case is different. The 
indications of design point strongly in one direction, 
the preservation of the creatures in whose structure 
the indications are found. Along with the preserving 
agencies there are destroying agencies, which we 
might be tempted to ascribe to the will of a different 
Creator : but there are rarely appearances of the re- 
condite contrivance of means of destruction, except 
when the destruction of one creature is the means of 
preservation to others. Nor can it be supposed that 
the preserving agencies are wielded by one Being, 
the destroying agencies by another. The destroying 
agencies are a necessary part of the preserving 
agencies : the chemical compositions by which life is 
carried on could not take place without a parallel 
series of decompositions. The great agent of decay in 
both organic and inorganic substances is oxidation, 
and it is only by oxidation that life is continued for 
even the length of a minute. The imperfections in 
the attainment of the purposes which the appearances 
indicate, have not the air of having been designed. 
They are like the unintended results of accidents in- 
sufficiently guarded against, or of a little excess or 
deficiency in the quantity of some of the agencies by 
which the good purpose is carried on, or else they 
are consequences of the wearing out of a machinery 


not made to last for ever : they point either to short- 
comings in the workmanship as regards its intended 
purpose, or to external forces not under the control of 
the workman, but which forces bear no mark of being 
wielded and aimed by any other and rival Intelligence. 

We may conclude, then, that there is no ground in 
Natural Theology for attributing intelligence or per- 
sonality to the obstacles which partially thwart what 
seem the purposes of the Creator. The limitation 
of his power more probably results either from the 
qualities of the material the substances and forces of 
which the universe is composed not admitting of any 
arrangements by which his purposes could be more 
completely fulfilled ; or else, the purposes might have 
been more fully attained, but the Creator did not 
know how to do it; creative skill, wonderful as it is, 
was not sufficiently perfect to accomplish his purposes 
more thoroughly. 

"We now pass to the moral attributes of the Deity, 
so far as indicated in the Creation; or (stating the 
problem in the broadest manner) to the question, 
what indications Nature gives of the purposes of its 
author. This question bears a very different aspect 
to us from what it bears to those teachers of Natural 
Theology who are incumbered with the necessity of 
admitting the omnipotence of the Creator. We have 
not to attempt the impossible problem of reconciling 
infinite benevolence and justice with infinite power in 


the Creator of such a world as this. The attempt to 
do so not only involves absolute contradiction in an 
intellectual point of view but exhibits to excess the 
revolting spectacle of a Jesuitical defence of moral 

On this topic I need not add to the illustrations 
given of this portion of the subject in my Essay on 
Nature. At the stage which our argument has 
reached there is none of this moral perplexity. Grant 
that creative power was limited by conditions the 
nature and extent of which are wholly unknown to us, 
and the goodness and justice of the Creator may be 
all that the most pious believe ; and all in the work 
that conflicts with those moral attributes may be the 
fault of the conditions which left to the Creator only 
a choice of evils. 

It is, however, one question whether any given 
conclusion is consistent with known facts, and another 
whether there is evidence to prove it : and if we have 
no means for judging of the design but from the work 
actually produced, it is a somewhat hazardous specu- 
lation to suppose that the work designed was of a 
different quality from the result realized. Still, though 
the ground is unsafe we may, with due caution, 
journey a certain distance on it. Some parts of the 
order of nature give much more indication of con- 
trivance than others; many, it is not too much to 
say, give no sign of it at all. The signs of con- 


trivance are most conspicuous in the structure and. 
processes of vegetable and animal life. But for these, 
it is probable that the appearances in nature would 
never have seemed to the thinking part of mankind 
to afford any proofs of a God. But when a God had 
been inferred from the organization of living beings, 
other parts of Nature, such as the structure of the 
solar system, seemed to afford evidences, more or less 
strong, in confirmation of the belief: granting, then, 
a design in Nature, we can best hope to be enlight- 
ened as to what that design was, by examining it in 
the parts of Nature in which its traces are the most 

To what purpose, then, do the expedients in the 
construction of animals and vegetables, which excite 
the admiration of naturalists, appear to tend ? There 
is no blinking the fact that they tend principally to 
no more exalted object than to make the structure 
remain in life and in working order for a certain time : 
the individual for a few years, the species or race for 
a longer but still a limited period. And the similar 
though less conspicuous marks of creation which are 
recognized in inorganic Nature, are generally of the 
same character. The adaptations, for instance, which 
appear in the solar system consist in placing it under 
conditions which enable the mutual action of its parts 
to maintain instead of destroying its stability, and 
even that only for a time, vast indeed if measured. 


against our short span of animated existence, but 
which can be perceived even by us to be limited : for 
even the feeble means which we possess of exploring 
the past, are believed by those who have examined 
the subject by the most recent lights, to yield evidence 
that the solar system was once a vast sphere of nebula 
or vapour, and is going through a process which in 
the course of ages will reduce it to a single and not 
very large mass of solid matter frozen up with more 
than arctic cold. If the machinery of the system is 
adapted to keep itself at work only for a time, still less 
perfect is the adaptation of it for the abode of living 
beings since it is only adapted to them during the 
relatively short portion of its total duration which in- 
tervenes between the time when each planet was too hot 
and the time when it became or will become too cold 
to admit of life under the only conditions in which 
we have experience of its possibility. Or we should 
perhaps reverse the statement, and say that organiza- 
tion and life are only adapted to the conditions of the 
solar system during a relatively short portion of the 
system's existence. 

The greater part, therefore, of the design of which 
there is indication in Nature, however wonderful its 
mechanism, is no evidence of any moral attributes, 
because the end to which it is directed, and its adapta- 
tion to which end is the evidence of its being directed 
to an end at all, is not a moral end: it is not the 


good of any sentient creature, it is but the qualified 
permanence, for a limited period, of the work itself, 
whether animate or inanimate. The only inference 
that can be drawn from most of it, respecting the 
character of the Creator, is that he does not wish his 
works to perish as soon as created ; he wills them to 
have a certain duration. From this alone nothing can 
be justly inferred as to the manner in which he is 
affected towards his animate or rational creatures. 

After deduction of the great number of adaptations 
which have no apparent object but to keep the machine 
going, there remain a certain number of provisions 
for giving pleasure to living beings, and a certain 
number of provisions for giving them pain. There is 
no positive certainty that the whole of these ought not 
to take their place among the contrivances for keeping 
the creature or its species in existence ; for both the 
pleasures and the pains have a conservative tendency ; 
the pleasures being generally so disposed as to attract 
to the things which maintain individual or collective 
existence, the pains so as to deter from such as would 
destroy it. 

When all these things are considered it is evident 
that a vast deduction must be made from the evidences 
of a Creator before they can be counted as evidences 
of a benevolent purpose : so vast indeed that some 
may doubt whether after such a deduction there 
remains any balance. Yet endeavouring to look at 


the question without partiality or prejudice and without 
allowing 1 wishes to have any influence over judgment, 
it does appear that granting the existence of design, 
there is a preponderance of evidence that the Creator 
desired the pleasure of his creatures. This is indicated 
by the fact that pleasure of one description or 
another is afforded by almost everything, the mere 
play of the faculties, physical and mental, being a 
never-ending source of pleasure, and even painful 
things giving pleasure by the satisfaction of curiosity 
and the agreeable sense of acquiring knowledge ; and 
also that pleasure, when experienced, seems to result 
from the normal working of the machinery, while 
pain usually arises from some external interference 
with it, and resembles in each particular case the 
result of an accident. Even in cases when pain results, 
like pleasure, from the machinery itself, the appear- 
ances do not indicate that contrivance was brought 
into play purposely to produce pain : what is indi- 
cated is rather a clumsiness in the contrivance em- 
ployed for some other purpose. The author of the 
machinery is no doubt accountable for having made 
it susceptible of pain ; but this may have been a 
necessary condition of its susceptibility to pleasure ; 
a supposition which avails nothing on the theory of 
an Omnipotent Creator but is an extremely probable 
one in the case of a contriver working under the 
limitation of inexorable laws and indestructible pro- 


perties of matter. The susceptibility being conceded 
as a thing which did enter into design, the pain itself 
usually seems like a thing undesigned ; a casual result 
of the collision of the organism with some outward 
force to which it was not intended to be exposed, 
and which, in many -cases, provision is even made to 
hinder it from being exposed to. There is, therefore, 
much appearance that pleasure is agreeable to the 
Creator, while there is very little if any appearance 
that pain is so : and there is a certain amount of 
justification for inferring, on grounds of Natural 
Theology alone, that benevolence is one of the attri- 
butes of the Creator. But to jump from this to the 
inference that his sole or chief purposes are those of 
benevolence, and that the single end and aim of 
Creation was the happiness of his creatures, is not only 
not justified by any evidence but is a conclusion in 
opposition to such evidence as we have. If the motive 
of the Deity for creating sentient beings was the hap- 
piness of the beings he created, his purpose, in our 
corner of the universe" at least, must be pronounced, 
taking past ages and all countries and races into 
account, to have been thus far an ignominious 
failure ; and if God had no purpose but our happiness 
and that of other living creatures it is not credible 
that he would have called them into existence with 
the prospect of being so completely baffled. If man 
had not the power by the exercise of his own ener- 


gies for the improvement both of himself and of his 
outward circumstances, to do for himself and other 
creatures vastly more than God had in the first 
instance done, the Being who called him into exist- 
ence would deserve something very different from 
thanks at his hands. Of course it may be said that 
this very capacity of improving himself and the 
world was given to him by God, and that the change 
which he will be thereby enabled ultimately to 
effect in human existence will be worth purchasing 
by the sufferings and wasted lives of entire geolo- 
gical periods. This may be so ; but to suppose that 
God could not have given him these blessings at a 
less frightful cost, is to make a very strange suppo- 
sition concerning the Deity. It is to suppose that 
God could not, in the first instance, create anything 
better than a Bosjesman or an Andaman islander, 
or something still lower ; and yet was able to endow 
the Bosjesman or the Andaman islander with the 
power of raising himself into a Newton or a Fenelon. 
"We certainly do not know the nature of the barriers 
which limit the divine omnipotence ; but it is a very 
odd notion of them that they enable the Deity to 
confer on an almost bestial creature the power of 
producing by a succession of efforts what God him- 
self had no other means of creating. 

Such are the indications of Natural Eeli^ion in 


respect to the divine benevolence. If we look for any 
other of the moral attributes which a certain class of 
philosophers are accustomed to distinguish from 
benevolence, as for example Justice, we find a total 
blank. There is no evidence whatever in Nature for 
divine j ustice, whatever standard of justice our ethical 
opinions may lead us to recognize. There is no shadow 
of justice in the general arrangements of Nature ; and 
what imperfect realization it obtains in any human 
society (a most imperfect realization as yet) is the work 
of man himself, struggling upwards against immense 
natural difficulties, into civilization, and making to 
himself a second nature, far better and more unselfish 
than he was created with. But on this point enough 
has been said in another Essay, already referred to, on 

These, then, are the net results of Natural Theology 
on the question of the divine attributes. A Being of 
great but limited power, how or by what limited we 
cannot even conjecture ; of great, and perhaps un- 
limited intelligence, but perhaps, also, more narrowly 
limited than his power : who desires, and pays some 
regard to, the happiness of his creatures, but who 
seems to have other motives of action which he cares 
more for, and who can hardly be supposed to have 
created the universe for that purpose alone. Such is 
the Deity whom Natural Eeligion points to ; and any 


idea of God more captivating than this comes only 
from human wishes, or from the teaching of either 
real or imaginary Eevelation. 

We shall next examine whether the light of nature 
gives any indications concerning the immortality of 
the soul, and a future life. 



HP HE indications of immortality may be considered 
in two divisions: those which are independent 
of any theory respecting the Creator and his intentions, 
and those which depend upon an antecedent belief on 
that subject. 

Of the former class of arguments speculative men 
have in different ages put forward a considerable 
variety, of which those in the Phsedon of Plato are an 
example ; but they are for the most part such as have 
no adherents, and need not be seriously refuted, now. 
They are generally founded upon preconceived theories 
as to the nature of the thinking principle in man, 
considered as distinct and separable from the body, and 
on other preconceived theories respecting death. As, 
for example, that death, or dissolution, is always a 
separation of parts ; and the soul being without parts, 
being simple and indivisible, is not susceptible of this 
separation. Curiously enough, one of the interlocutors 


in the Phsedon anticipates the answer by which an 
objector of the present day would meet this argument : 
namely, that thought and consciousness, though 
mentally distinguishable from the body, may not be a 
substance separable from it, but a result of it, standing 
in a relation to it (the illustration is Plato's) like that 
of a tune to the musical instrument on which it is 
played ; and that the arguments used to prove that 
the soul does not die with the body, would equally 
prove that the tune does not die with the instrument, 
but survives its destruction and continues to exist apart. 
In fact, those moderns who dispute the evidences of 
the immortality of the soul, do not, in general, believe 
the soul to be a substance per se, but regard it as the 
name of a bundle of attributes, the attributes of feel- 
ing, thinking, reasoning, believing, willing, &c., and 
these attributes they regard as a consequence of the 
bodily organization, which therefore, they argue, it is 
as unreasonable to suppose surviving when that 
organization is dispersed, as to suppose the colour 
or odour of a rose surviving when the rose itself has 
perished. Those, therefore, who would deduce the 
immortality of the soul from its own nature have first 
to prove that the attributes in question are not attri- 
butes of the body but of a separate substance. Now 
what is the verdict of science on this point ? It is not 
perfectly conclusive either way. In the first place, it 
does not prove, experimentally, that any mode of 

o 2 


organization has the power of producing feeling or 
thought. To make that proof good it would be 
necessary that we should be able to produce an 
organism, and try whether it would feel ; which we 
cannot do ; organisms cannot by any human means 
be produced, they can only be developed out of a 
previous organism. On the other hand, the evidence 
is well nigh complete that all thought and feeling has 
some action of the bodily organism for its immediate 
antecedent or accompaniment ; that the specific 
variations and especially the different degrees of com- 
plication of the nervous and cerebral organization, 
correspond to differences in the development of the 
mental faculties ; and though we have no evidence, 
except negative, that the mental consciousness ceases 
for ever when the functions of the brain are at an end, 
we do know that diseases of the brain disturb the 
mental functions and that decay or weakness of the 
brain enfeebles them. "We have therefore sufficient 
evidence that cerebral action is, if not the cause, at 
least, in our present state of existence, a condition 
sine qua non of mental operations ; and that assuming 
the mind to be a distinct substance, its separation from 
the body would not be, as some have vainly flattered 
themselves, a liberation from trammels and restoration 
to freedom, but would simply put a stop to its functions 
and remand it to unconsciousness, unless and until 
some other set of conditions supervenes, capable of re- 


calling it into activity, but of the existence of which 
experience does not give us the smallest indication. 

At the same time it is of importance to remark 
that these considerations only amount to defect of 
evidence ; they afford no positive argument against 
immortality. We must beware of giving a priori 
validity to the conclusions of an a posteriori philo- 
sophy. The root of all a priori thinking is the 
tendency to transfer to outward things a strong asso- 
ciation between the corresponding ideas in our own 
minds ; and the thinkers who most sincerely attempt 
to limit their beliefs by experience, and honestly 
believe that they do so, are not always sufficiently on 
their guard against this mistake. There are thinkers 
who regard it as a truth of reason that miracles are 
impossible ; and in like manner there are others who 
because the phenomena of life and consciousness are 
associated in their minds by undeviating experience 
with the action of material organs, think it an ab- 
surdity per se to imagine it possible that those 
phenomena can exist under any other conditions. 
But they should remember that the uniform co- 
existence of one fact with another does not make the 
one fact a part of the other, or the same with it. 
The relation of thought to a material brain is no 
metaphysical necessity ; but simply a constant co- 
existence within the limits of observation. And 
when analysed to the bottom on the principles of the 


Associative Psychology, the brain, just as much as 
the mental functions is, like matter itself, merely a 
set of human sensations either actual or inferred as 
possible, namely those which the anatomist has 
when he opens the skull, and the impressions which 
we suppose we should receive of molecular or some 
other movements when the cerebral action was going 
on, if there were no bony envelope and our senses 
or our instruments were sufficiently delicate. Ex- 
perience furnishes us with no example of any series 
of states of consciousness, without this group of con- 
tingent sensations attached to it ; but it is as easy to 
imagine such a series of states without, as with, this 
accompaniment, and we know of no reason in the 
nature of things against the possibility of its being 
thus disjoined. We may suppose that the same 
thoughts, emotions, volitions and even sensations 
which we have here, may persist or recommence 
somewhere else under other conditions, just as we 
may suppose that other thoughts and sensations may 
exist under other conditions in other parts of the 
universe. And in entertaining this supposition we 
need not be embarrassed by any metaphysical difficul- 
ties about a thinking substance. Substance is but a 
general name for the perdurability of attributes : 
wherever there is a series of thoughts connected 
together by memories, that constitutes a thinking 
substance. This absolute distinction in thought and 


separability in representation of our states of con- 
sciousness from the set of conditions with which they 
are united only by constancy of concomitance, is 
equivalent in a practical point of view to the old 
distinction of the two substances, Matter and Mind. 

There is, therefore, in science, no evidence against 
the immortality of the soul but that negative 
evidence, which consists in the absence of evidence 
in its favour. And even the negative evidence is not 
so strong as negative evidence often is. In the case 
of witchcraft, for instance, the fact that there is no 
proof which will stand examination of its having ever 
existed, is as conclusive as the most positive evidence 
of its non-existence would be ; for it exists, if it 
does exist, on this earth, where if it had existed the 
evidence of fact would certainly have been available 
to prove it. But it is not so as to the soul's existence 
after death. That it does not remain on earth and 
go about visibly or interfere in the events of life, is 
proved by the same weight of evidence which dis- 
proves witchcraft. But that it does not exist else- 
where, there is absolutely no proof. A very faint, if 
any, presumption, is all that is afforded by its dis- 
appearance from the surface of this planet. 

Some may think that there is an additional and 
very strong presumption against the immortality of 
the thinking and conscious principle, from the analysis 
of all the other objects of Nature. All things in 


Nature perish, the most beautiful and perfect being, 
as philosophers and poets alike complain, the most 
perishable. A flower of the most exquisite form and 
colouring grows up from a root, comes to perfection 
in weeks or months, and lasts only a few hours or 
days. Why should it be otherwise with man ? -Why 
indeed. But why, also, should it not be otherwise ? 
Feeling and thought are not merely different from 
what we call inanimate matter, but are at the oppo- 
site pole of existence, and analogical inference has 
little or no validity from the one to the other. 
Feeling and thought are much more real than any- 
thing else; they are the only things which we directly 
know to be real, all things else being merely the 
unknown conditions on which these, in our present 
state of existence or in some other, depend. All 
matter apart from the feelings of sentient beings has 
but an hypothetical and unsubstantial existence : it 
is a mere assumption to account for our sensations ; 
itself we do not perceive, we are not conscious of it, 
but only of the sensations which we are said to 
receive from it : in reality it is a mere name for our 
expectation of sensations, or for our belief that we 
can have certain sensations when certain other sensa- 
tions give indication of them. Because these contin- 
gent possibilities of sensation sooner or later come to 
an end and give place to others, is it implied in this, 
that the series of our feelings must itself be broken 


off? This would not be to reason from one kind of 
substantive reality to another, but to draw from 
something which has no reality except in reference 
to something else, conclusions applicable to that 
which is the only substantive reality. Mind, (or 
whatever name we give to what is implied in con- 
sciousness of a continued series of feelings) is in a 
philosophical point of view the only reality of which 
we have any evidence ; and no analogy can be recog- 
nized or comparison made between it and other 
realities because there are no other known realities 
to compare it with. That is quite consistent with 
its being perishable ; but the question whether it is 
so or not is res Integra, untouched by any of the 
results of human knowledge and experience. The 
case is one of those very rare cases in which there^ is 
really a total absence of evidence on either side, and 
in which the absence of evidence for the affirmative 

cfoes~~not, asm so many cases it does, create a strong 
presumption in favour of the negative. 
~TheT>elief, however, in human immortality, in the 
minds of mankind generally, is probably not grounded 
on any scientific arguments either physical or meta- 
physical, but on foundations with most minds much 
stronger, namely on one hand the disagreeableness of 
giving up existence, (to those at least to whom it has 
hitherto been pleasant) and on the other the general 
traditions of mankind. The natural tendency of 


belief to follow these two inducements, our own 
wishes and the general assent of other people, has 
been in this instance reinforced by the utmost exer- 
tion of the power of public and private teaching; 
rulers and instructors having at all times, with the 
view of giving greater effect to their mandates whether 
from selfish or from public motives,, encouraged to the 
utmost of their power the belief that there is a life 
after death, in which, pleasures and sufferings far 
greater than on earth, depend on our doing or leaving 
undone while alive, what we are commanded to do in 
the name of the unseen powers. As causes of belief 
these various circumstances are most powerful. As 
rational grounds of it they carry no weight at all. 

That what is called the consoling nature of an 
opinion, that is, the pleasure we should have in 
believing it to be true, can be a ground for believing 
it, is a doctrine irrational in itself and which would 
sanction half the mischievous illusions recorded in 
history or which mislead individual life. It is some- 
times, in the case now under consideration, wrapt up 
in a quasi-scientific language. We are told that the 
desire of immortality is one of our instincts, and that 
there is no instinct which has not corresponding to 
it a real object fitted to satisfy it. Where there 
is hunger there is somewhere food, where there is 
sexual feeling there is somewhere sex, where there is 
love there is somewhere something to be loved, and 


so forth : in like manner since there is the instinctive 
desire of eternal life, eternal life there must be. The 
answer to this is patent on the very surface of the 
subject. It is unnecessary to go into any recondite 
considerations concerning instincts, or to discuss 
whether the desire in question is an instinct or not. 
Granting that wherever there is an instinct there 
exists something such as that instinct demands, can it 
be affirmed that this something exists in boundless 
quantity, or sufficient to satisfy the infinite craving 
of human desires? "What is called the desire of 
eternal life is simply the desire of life ; and does 
there not exist that which this desire calls for ? Is 
there not life ? And is not the instinct, if it be an 
instinct, gratified by the possession and preservation 
of life ? To suppose that the desire of life guarantees 
to us personally the reality of life through all 
eternity, is like supposing that the desire of food 
assures us that we shall always have as much as we 
can eat through our whole lives and as much longer 
as we can conceive our lives to be protracted to. 

The argument from tradition or the general belief 
of the human race, if we accept it as a guide to our 
own belief, must be accepted entire : if so we are 
bound to believe that the souls of human beings not 
only survive after death but show themselves as 
ghosts to the living; for we find no people who 
have had the one belief without the other. Indeed 


it is probable that the former belief originated in 
the latter, and that primitive men would never have 
supposed that the soul did not die with the body if 
they had not fancied that it visited them after death. 
Nothing could be more natural than such a fancy ; 
it is, in appearance, completely realized in dreams, 
which in Homer and in all ages like Homer's, are 
supposed to be real apparitions. To dreams we have 
to add not merely waking hallucinations but the de- 
lusions, however baseless, of sight and hearing, or 
rather the misinterpretations of those senses, sight 
or hearing supplying mere hints from which ima- 
gination paints a complete picture and invests it 
with realit} r . These delusions are not to be judged 
of by a modem standard : in early times the line be- 
tween imagination and perception was by no means 
clearly defined ; there was little or none of the know- 
ledge we now possess of the actual course of nature, 
which makes us distrust or disbelieve any appearance 
which is at variance with known laws. In the igno- 
rance of men as to what were the limits of nature and 
what was or was not compatible with it, no one thing 
seemed, as far as physical considerations went, to be 
much more improbable than another. In rejecting, 
therefore, as we do, and as we have the best reason to 
do, the tales and legends of the actual appearance of 
disembodied spirits, we take from under the general 
belief of mankind in a life after death, what in all 


probability was its chief ground and support, and 
deprive it of even the very little value which the 
opinion of rude ages can ever have as evidence of 
truth. If it be said that this belief has maintained 
itself in ages which have ceased to be rude and which 
reject the superstitions with which it once was ac- 
companied, the same may be said of many other 
opinions of rude ages, and especially on the most 
important and interesting subjects, because it is on 
those subjects that the reigning opinion, whatever it 
may be, is the most sedulously inculcated upon all 
who are born into the world. This particular opinion, 
moreover, if it has on the whole kept its ground, has \ 
done so with a constantly increasing number of dis- 
sentients, and those especially among cultivated 
minds. Finally, those cultivated minds which ad- 
here to the belief ground it, we may reasonably sup- 
pose, not on the belief of others, but on arguments 
and evidences ; and those arguments and evidences, 
therefore, are what it concerns us to estimate and 

The preceding are a sufficient sample of the argu- 
ments for a future life which do not suppose an 
antecedent belief in the existence, or any theory 
respecting the attributes of the Godhead. It remains 
to consider what arguments are supplied by such 
lights, or such grounds of conjecture, as natural 
theology affords, on those great questions. 


We have seen that these lights are but faint; 
that of the existence of a Creator they afford no 
more than a preponderance of probability ; of his 
benevolence a considerably less preponderance; that 
there is, however, some reason to think that he cares 
for the pleasures of his creatures, but by no means 
that this is his sole care, or that other purposes do 
not often take precedence of it. His intelligence 
must be adequate to the contrivances apparent in 
the universe, but need not be more than adequate 
to them, and his power is not only not proved 
to be infinite, but the only real evidences in natural 
theology tend to show that it is limited, contrivance 
being a mode of overcoming difficulties, and always 
supposing difficulties to be overcome. 

"We have now to consider what inference can 
legitimately be drawn from these premises, in favour 
of a future life. It seems to me, apart from express 
revelation, none at all. 

The common arguments are, the goodness of God ; 
the improbability that he would ordain the annihila- 
tion of his noblest and richest work, after the greater 
part of its few years of life had been spent in the 
acquisition of faculties which time is not allowed 
him to turn to fruit ; and the special improbability 
that he would have implanted in us an instinctive 
desire of eternal life, and doomed that desire to 
complete disappointment. 


These might be arguments in a world the constitu- 
tion of which made it possible without contradiction 
to hold it for the work of a Being at once omnipotent 
and benevolent. But they are not arguments in a 
world like that in which we live. The benevolence 
of the divine Being may be perfect, but his power 
being subject to unknown limitations, we know not 
that he could have given us what we so confidently 
assert that he must have given ; could (that is) with- 
out sacrificing something more important. Even his 
benevolence, however justly inferred, is by no means 
indicated as the interpretation of his whole purpose, 
and since we cannot tell how far other purposes 
may have interfered with the exercise of his bene- 
volence, we know not that he 'would, even if he could 
have granted us eternal life. With regard to the 
supposed improbability of his having given the wish 
without its gratification, the same answer may be 
made ; the scheme which either limitation of power, 
or conflict of purposes, compelled him to adopt, may 
have required that we should have the wish although 
it were not destined to be gratified. One thing, 
however, is quite certain in respect to God's govern- 
ment of the world ; that he either could not, or would 
not, grant to us every thing we wish. "We wish for 
life, and he has granted some life : that we wish (or 
some of us wish) for a boundless extent of life and 
that it is not granted, is no exception to the ordinary 


modes of his government. Many a man would like 
to be a Croesus or an Augustus Caesar, but has his 
wishes gratified only to the moderate extent of a 
pound a week or the Secretaryship of his Trades 
Union. There is, therefore, no assurance whatever 
of a life after death, on grounds of natural religion. 
But to any one who feels it conducive either to 
his satisfaction or to his usefulness to hope for a 
future state as a possibility, there is no hindrance 
to his indulging that hope. Appearances point to 
the existence of a Being who has great power over 
us all the power implied in the creation of the 
Kosmos, or of its organized beings at least and of 
whose goodness we have evidence though not of 
its being his predominant attribute : and as we do 
not know the limits either of his power or of his 
goodness, there is room to hope that both the one 
and the other may extend to granting us this gift 
provided that it would really be beneficial to us. 
The same ground which permits the hope warrants 
us in expecting that if there be a future life it will 
be at least as good as the present, and will not be 
wanting in the best feature of the present life, im- 
provability by our own efforts. Nothing can be more 
opposed to every estimate we can form of probability, 
than the common idea of the future life as a state 
of rewards and punishments in any other sense than 
that the consequences of our actions upon our own 


Character and susceptibilities will follow us in the 
future as they have done in the past and present. 
Whatever be the probabilities of a future life, all the 
probabilities in case of a future life are that such as 
we have been made or have made ourselves before the 
change, such we shall enter into the life hereafter ; 
and that the fact of death will make no sudden break 
in our spiritual life, nor influence our character any 
otherwise than as any important change in our mode 
of existence may always be expected to modify it. 
Our thinking principle has its laws which in this life 
are invariable, and any analogies drawn from this 
life must assume that the same laws will continue. 
To imagine that a miracle will be wrought at death 
by the act of God making perfect every one whom 
it is his will to include among his elect, might be 
justified by an express revelation duly authenticated, 
but is utterly opposed to every presumption that 
<jan be deduced from the light of Nciture. 




discussion in the preceding pages respecting 
the evidences of Theism has been strictly con- 
fined to those which are derived from the light of 
Nature. It is a different question what addition has 
been made to those evidences, and to what extent the 
conclusions obtainable from them have been amplified 
or modified, by the establishment of a direct communi- 
cation with the Supreme Being. It would be beyond 
the purpose of this Essay, to take into consideration the 
positive evidences of the Christian, or any other 
belief, which claims to be a revelation from Heaven. 
But such general considerations as are applicable not 
to a particular system, but to Eevelation generally, 
may properly find a place here, and are indeed ne- 
cessary to give a sufficiently practical bearing to the 
results of the preceding investigation. 

In the first place, then, the indications of a 
Creator and of his attributes which we have been 



able to find in Nature, though so much slighter and 
less conclusive even as to his existence than the 
pious mind would wish to consider them, and still 
more unsatisfactory in the information they afford as 
to his attributes, are yet sufficient to give to the 
supposition of a Eevelation a standing point which 
it would not otherwise have had. The alleged Eeve- 
lation is not obliged to build up its case from the 
foundation ; it has not to prove the very existence of 
the Being from whom it professes to come. It claims 
to be a message from a Being whose existence, whose 
power, and to a certain extent whose wisdom and 
goodness, are, if not proved, at least indicated with 
more or less of probability by the phenomena of 
Nature. The sender of the alleged message is not a 
sheer invention ; there are grounds independent of 
the message itself for belief in his reality ; grounds 
which, though insufficient for proof, are sufficient to 
take away all antecedent improbability from the sup- 
position that a message may really have been received 
from him. It is, moreover, much to the purpose 
to take notice, that the very imperfection of the 
evidences which Natural Theology can produce of the 
Divine attributes, removes some of the chief stum- 
bling blocks to the belief of a Eevelation ; since the 
objections grounded on imperfections in the Eevelation 
itself, however conclusive against it if it is considered 
as a record of the acts or an expression of the wisdom 


of a Being of infinite power combined with infinite 
wisdom and goodness, are no reason whatever against 
its having come from a Being such as the course of 
nature points to, whose wisdom is possibly, his power 
certainly, limited, and whose goodness, though real, 
is not likely to have been the only motive which 
actuated him in the work of Creation. The argument 
of Butler's Analogy, is, from its own point of view, 
conclusive : the Christian religion is open to no objec- 
tions, either moral or intellectual, which do not apply 
at least equally to the common theory of Deism ; the 
morality of the Gospels is far higher and better than 
that which shows itself in the order of Nature ; and 
what is morally objectionable in the Christian theory 
of the world, is objectionable only when taken in con- 
junction with the doctrine of an omnipotent God ; 
and (at least as understood by the most enlightened 
Christians) by no means imports any moral obliquity 
in a Being whose power is supposed to be restricted 
by real, though unknown obstacles, which prevented 
him from fully carrying out his design. The grave 
error of Butler was that he shrank from admitting 
the hypothesis of limited powers ; and his appeal con- 
sequently amounts to this : The belief of Chris- 
tians is neither more absurd nor more immoral than 
the belief of Deists who acknowledge an Omnipotent 
Creator, let us, therefore, in spite of the absurdity and 
immorality, believe both. He ought to have said, let 


us cut down our belief of either to what does not in- 
volve absurdity or immorality; to what is neither 
intellectually self- contradictory nor morally perverted. 
To return, however, to the main subject : on the 
hypothesis of a God, who made the world, and in 
making it had regard, however that regard may have 
been limited by other considerations, to the happiness 
of his sentient creatures, there is no antecedent impro- 
bability in the supposition that his concern for their 
good would continue, and that he might once or 
oftener give proof of it by communicating to them 
some knowledge of himself beyond what they were 
able to make out by their unassisted faculties, and 
some knowledge or precepts useful for guiding them 
through the difficulties of life. Neither on the only 
tenable hypothesis, that of limited power, is it open to 
us to object that these helps ought to have been 
greater, or in any way other than they are. The only 
question to be entertained, and which we cannot dis- 
pense ourselves from entertaining, is that of evidence. 
Can any evidence suffice to prove a Divine Revela- 
tion ? And of what nature, and what amount, must 
that evidence be ? Whether the special evidences of 
Christianity, or of any other alleged revelation, do or 
do not come up to the mark, is a different question, 
into which I do not propose directly to enter. The 
question I intend to consider, is, what evidence is re- 
quired ; what general conditions it ought to satisfy ; 


and whether they are such as, according to the known 
constitution of things, can be satisfied. 

The evidences of Eevelation are commonly dis- 
tinguished as external or internal. External evi- 
dences are the testimony of the senses or of witnesses. 
By the internal evidences are meant the indications 
which the Eevelation itself is thought to furnish of 
its divine origin; indications supposed to consist 
chiefly in the excellence of its precepts, and its 
general suitability to the circumstances and needs of 
human nature. 

The consideration of these internal evidences is 
very important, but their importance is principally 
negative ; they may be conclusive grounds for re- 
jecting a Eevelation, but cannot of themselves warrant 
the acceptance of it as divine. If the moral character 
of the doctrines of an alleged Eevelation is bad and 
perverting, we ought to reject it from whomsoever it 
comes ; for it cannot come from a good and wise 
Being. But the excellence of their morality can 
never entitle us to ascribe to them a supernatural 
origin : for we cannot have conclusive reason for 
believing that the human faculties were incompetent 
to find out moral doctrines of which the human facul- 
ties can perceive and recognize the excellence. A 
Eevelation, therefore, cannot be proved divine unless 
by external evidence; that is, by the exhibition of 
supernatural facts. And we have to consider, whether 


it is possible to prove supernatural facts, and if it is, 
what evidence is required to prove them. 

This question has only, so far as I know, been 
seriously raised on the sceptical side, by Hume. It 
is the question involved in his famous argument 
against Miracles : an argument which goes down to 
the depths of the subject, but the exact scope and 
effect of which, (perhaps not conceived with perfect 
correctness by that great thinker himself), have in 
general been utterly misconceived by those who have 
attempted to answer him. Dr. Campbell, for example, 
one of the acutest of his antagonists, has thought 
himself obliged, in order to support the credibility 
of miracles, to lay down doctrines which virtually 
go the length of maintaining that antecedent im- 
probability is never a sufficient ground for refusing 
credence to a statement, if it is well attested. Dr. 
Campbell's fallacy lay in overlooking a double 
meaning of the word improbability ; as I have 
pointed out in my Logic, and, still earlier, in an 
editorial note to Bentham's treatise on Evidence. 

Taking the question from the very beginning ; it 
is evidently impossible to maintain that if a super- 
natural fact really occurs, proof of its occurrence 
cannot be accessible to the human faculties. The 
evidence of our senses could prove this as it can 
prove other things. To put the most extreme case : 
suppose that I actually saw and heard a Being, either 


of the human form, or of some form previously un- 
known to me, commanding a world to exist, and a 
new world actually starting into existence and com- 
mencing a movement through space, at his command. 
There can be no doubt that this evidence would 
convert the creation of worlds from a speculation 
into a fact of experience. It may be said, I could 
not know that so singular an appearance was any- 
thing more than a hallucination of my senses. True; 
but the same doubt exists at first respecting every 
unsuspected and surprising fact which comes to light 
in our physical researches. That our senses have 
been deceived, is a possibility which has to be met 
and dealt with, and we do deal with it by several 
means. If we repeat the experiment, and again with 
the same result ; if at the time of the observation the 
impressions of our senses are in all other respects the 
same as usual, rendering the supposition of their 
being morbidly affected in this one particular, ex- 
tremely improbable; above all, if other people's 
senses confirm the testimony of our own ; we con- 
clude, with reason, that we may trust our senses. 
Indeed our senses are all that we have to trust to. 
We depend on them for the ultimate premises even 
of our reasonings. There is no other appeal against 
their decision than an appeal from the senses without 
precautions to the senses with all due precautions. 
When the evidence, on which an opinion rests, is 


equal to that upon which the whole conduct and 
safety of our lives is founded, we need ask no further. 
Objections which apply equally to all evidence are 
valid against none. They only prove abstract falli- 

But the evidence of miracles, at least to Protestant 
Christians, is not, in our own day, of this cogent 
description. It is not the evidence of our senses, but 
of witnesses, and even this not at first hand, but resting 
on the attestation of books and traditions. And even 
in the case of the original eye-witnesses, the super- 
natural facts asserted on their alleged testimony, are 
not of the transcendant character supposed in our 
example, about the nature of which, or the impossi- 
bility of their having had a natural origin, there could 
be little room for doubt. On the contrary, the 
recorded miracles are, in the first place, generally such 
as it would have been extremely difficult to verify as 
matters of fact, and in the next place, are hardly ever 
beyond the possibility of having been brought about 
by human means or by the spontaneous agencies of 
nature. It is to cases of this kind that Hume's argu- 
ment against the credibility of miracles was meant to 

His argument is : The evidence of miracles consists 
of testimony. The ground of our reliance on testimony 
is our experience that certain conditions being supposed, 
testimony is generally veracious. But the same ex- 


perience tells us that even under the best conditions 
testimony is frequently either intentionally or un- 
intentionally, false. When, therefore, the fact to which 
testimony is produced is one the happening of which 
would be more at variance with experience than the 
falsehood of testimony, we ought not to believe it. 
And this rule all prudent persons observe in the 
conduct of life- Those who do not, are sure to suffer 
for their credulity. 

~Now a miracle (the argument goes on to say) is, 
in the highest possible degree, contradictory to 
experience : for if it were not contradictory to 
experience it would not be a miracle. The very 
reason for its being regarded as a miracle is that it is 
a breach of a law of nature, that is, of an otherwise 
invariable and inviolable uniformity in the succession 
of natural events. There is, therefore, the very 
strongest reason for disbelieving it, that experience 
can give for disbelieving anything. But the mendacity 
or error of witnesses, even though numerous and of fair 
character, is quite within the bounds of even common 
experience. That supposition, therefore, ought to be 

There are two apparently weak points in this 
argument. One is, that the evidence of experience 
to which its appeal is made is only negative evidence, 
which is not so conclusive as positive ; since facts of 
which there had been no previous experience are often 


discovered, and proved by positive experience to 
be true. The other seemingly vulnerable point is 
this. The argument has the appearance of assuming 
that the testimony of experience against miracles is 
undeviating and indubitable, as it would be if the 
whole question was about the probability of future 
miracles, none having taken place in the past ; whereas 
the very thing asserted on the other side is that 
there have been miracles, and that the testimony of 
experience is not wholly on the negative side. All 
the evidence alleged in favour of any miracle ought to 
be reckoned as counter evidence in refutation of the 
ground on which it is asserted that miracles ought to 
be disbelieved. The question can only be stated fairly 
as depending on a balance of evidence : a certain 
amount of positive evidence in favour of miracles, and 
a negative presumption from the general course of 
human experience against them. 

In order to support the argument under this double 
correction, it has to be shown that the negative pre- 
sumption against a miracle is very much stronger than 
that against a merely new and surprising fact. This, 
however, is evidently the case. A new physical 
discovery even if it consists in the defeating of a well 
established law of nature, is but the discovery of 
another law previously unknown. There is nothing 
in this but what is familiar to our experience : we were 
aware that we did not know all the laws of nature, 


and we were aware that one such law is liable to be 
counteracted by others. The new phenomenon, when 
brought to light, is found still to depend on law ; it is 
always exactly reproduced when the same circum- 
stances are repeated. Its occurrence, therefore, is 
within the limits of variation in experience, which 
experience itself discloses. But a miracle, in the very 
fact of being a miracle, declares itself to be a super- 
session not of one natural law by another, but of the 
law which includes all others, which experience shows 
to be universal for all phenomena, viz., that they 
depend on some law ; that they are always the same 
when there are the same phenomenal antecedents, and 
neither take place in the absence of their phenomenal 
causes, nor ever fail to take place when the phenomenal 
conditions are all present. 

It is evident that this argument against belief in 
miracles had very little to rest upon until a com- 
paratively modern stage in the progress of science. A 
few generations ago the universal dependence of 
phenomena on invariable laws was not only not recog- 
nized by mankind in general but could not be 
regarded by the instructed as a scientifically established 
truth. There were many phenomena which seemed 
quite irregular in their course, without dependence on 
any known antecedents : and though, no doubt, a 
certain regularity in the occurrence of the most fami- 
liar phenomena must always have been recognized, 


yet, even in these, the exceptions which were constantly 
occurring had not yet, by an investigation and generali- 
zation of the circumstances of their occurrence, been 
reconciled with the general rule. The heavenly bodies 
were from of old the most conspicuous types of regular 
and unvarying order : yet even among them comets 
were a phenomenon apparently originating without 
any law, and eclipses, one which seemed to take place 
in violation of law. Accordingly both comets and 
eclipses long continued to be regarded as of a miracu- 
lous nature, intended as signs and omens of human 
fortunes. It would have been impossible in those 
days to prove to any one that this supposition was an- 
tecedently improbable. It seemed more conformable 
to appearances than the hypothesis of an unknown law. 

Now, however, when, in the progress of science, all 
phenomena have been shown, by indisputable evidence, 
to be amenable to law, and even in the cases in which 
those laws have not yet been exactly ascertained, 
delay in ascertaining them is fully accounted for by 
the special difficulties of the subject ; the defenders of 
miracles have adapted their argument to this altered 
state of things, by maintaining that a miracle need 
not necessarily be a violation of law. It may, they 
say, take place in fulfilment of a more recondite law, 
to us unknown. 

If by this it be only meant that the Divine Being, 
in the exercise of his power of interfering with and 


suspending his own laws, guides himself by some 
general principle or rule of action, this, of course, 
cannot be disproved, and is in itself the most probable 
supposition. But if the argument means that a 
miracle may be the fulfilment of a law in the same 
sense in which the ordinary events of Nature are 
fulfilments of laws, it seems to indicate an imperfect 
conception of what is meant by a law, and of what 
constitutes a miracle. 

When we say that an ordinary physical fact always 
takes place according to some invariable law, we mean 
that it is connected by uniform sequence or coexist- 
ence with some definite set of physical antecedents ; 
that whenever that set is exactly reproduced the same 
phenomenon will take place, unless counteracted by 
the similar laws of some other physical antecedents ; 
and that whenever it does take place, it would always 
be found that its special set of antecedents (or one of 
its sets if it has more than one) has pre-existed. 
Now, an event which takes place in this manner, is 
not a miracle. To make it a miracle it must be pro- 
duced by a direct volition, without the use of means ; 
or at least, of any means which if simply repeated 
would produce it. To constitute a miracle a pheno- 
menon must take place without having been preceded 
by any antecedent phenomenal conditions sufficient 
again to reproduce it ; or a phenomenon for the pro- 
duction of which the antecedent conditions existed, 


must be arrested or prevented without the interven- 
tion of any phenomenal antecedents which would 
arrest or prevent it in a future case. The test of a 
miracle is : Were there present in the case such ex- 
ternal conditions, such second causes we may call 
them, that whenever these conditions or causes re- 
appear the event will be reproduced ? If there were, 
it is not a miracle ; if there were not, it is a miracle, 
but it is not according to law : it is an event produced, 
without, or in spite of law. 

It will perhaps be said that a miracle does not 
necessarily exclude the intervention of second causes. 
If it were the will of God to raise a thunderstorm by 
miracle, he might do it by means of winds and clouds. 
Undoubtedly; but the winds and clouds were either 
sufficient when produced to excite the thunderstorm 
without other divine assistance, or they were not. If 
they were not, the storm is not a fulfilment of law, 
but a violation of it. If they were sufficient, there is 
a miracle, but it is not the storm ; it is the production 
of the winds and clouds, or whatever link in the chain 
of causation it was at which the influence of physical 
antecedents was dispensed with. If that influence 
was never dispensed with, but the event called mira- 
culous was produced by natural means, and those again 
by others, and so on from the beginning of things ; 
if the event is no otherwise the act of God than in 
having been foreseen and ordained by him as the 


consequence of the forces put in action at the Creation ; 
then there is no miracle at all, nor anything different 
from the ordinary working of God's providence. 

For another example: a person professing to be 
divinely commissioned, cures a sick person, by some 
apparently insignificant external application. Would 
this application, administered by a person not spe- 
cially commissioned from above, have effected the 
cure ? If so, there is no miracle ; if not, there is a 
miracle, but there is a violation of law. 

It will be said, however, that if these be violations 
of law, then law is violated every time that any out- 
ward effect is produced by a voluntary act of a 
human being. Human volition is constantly modi- 
fying natural phenomena, not by violating their 
laws, but by using their laws. Why may not divine 
volition do the same? The power of volitions over 
phenomena is itself a law, and one of the earliest 
known and acknowledged laws of nature. It is true, 
the human will exercises power over objects in general 
indirectly, through the direct power which it possesses 
only over the human muscles. God, however, has 
direct power not merely over one thing, but over all 
the objects which he has made. There is, therefore, 
no more a supposition of violation of law in supposing 
that events are produced, prevented, or modified by 
God's action, than in the supposition of their being 
produced, prevented, or modified by man's action. 


Both are equally in the course of nature, both equally 
consistent with what we know of the government of 
all things by law. 

Those who thus argue are mostly believers in Free 
Will, and maintain that every human volition ori- 
ginates a new chain of causation, of which it is itself 
the commencing link, not connected by invariable 
sequence with any anterior fact. Even, therefore, if 
a divine interposition did constitute a breaking-in 
upon the connected chain of events, by the introduc- 
tion of a new originating cause without root in the 
past, this would be no reason for discrediting it, since 
every human act of volition does precisely the same. 
If the one is a breach of law, so are the others. In. 
fact, the reign of law does not extend to the origina- 
tion of volition. 

Those who dispute the Free Will theory, and regard, 
volition as no exception to the Universal law of Cause 
and Effect, may answer, that volitions do not interrupt 
the chain of causation, but carry it on, the connection 
of cause and effect being of just the same nature be- 
tween motive and act as between a combination of 
physical antecedents and a physical consequent. But 
this, whether true or not, does not really affect the 
argument: for the interference of human will with 
the course of nature is only not an exception to law 
when we include among laws the relation of motive 
to volition ; and by the same rule interference by the 



Divine will would not be an exception either ; since 
we cannot but suppose the Deity, in every one of his 
acts, to be determined by motives. 

The alleged analogy therefore holds good: but 
what it proves is only what I have from the first 
maintained that divine interference with nature 
could be proved if we had the same sort of evidence 
for it which we have for human interferences. The 
question of antecedent improbability only arises be- 
cause divine interposition is not certified by the 
direct evidence of perception, but is always matter 
of inference, and more or less of speculative inference. 
And a little consideration will show that in these 
circumstances the antecedent presumption against 
the truth of the inference is extremely strong. 

When the human will interferes to produce any 
physical phenomenon, except the movements of the 
human body, it does so by the employment of means: 
and is obliged to employ such means as are by their 
own physical properties sufficient to bring about the 
effect. Divine interference, by hypothesis, proceeds 
in a different manner from this : it produces its effect 
without means, or with such as are in themselves 
insufficient. In the first case, all the physical 
phenomena except the first bodily movement are 
produced in strict conformity to physical causation ; 
while that first movement is traced by positive 
observation, to the cause (the volition) which pro- 


duced it. In the other case, the event is supposed 
not to have been produced at all through physical 
causation, while there is no direct evidence to con- 
nect it with any volition. The ground on which 
it is ascribed to a volition is only negative, because 
there is no other apparent way of accounting for its 

But in this merely speculative explanation there 
is always another hypothesis possible, viz., that the 
event may have been produced by physical causes, in 
a manner not apparent. It may either be due to a 
law of physical nature not yet known, or to the un- 
known presence of the conditions necessary for pro- 
ducing it according to some known law. Supposing 
even that the event, supposed to be miraculous, 
does not reach us through the uncertain medium of 
human testimony but rests on the direct evidence of 
our own senses ; even then so long as there is no 
direct evidence of its production by a divine volition, 
like that we have for the production of bodily move- 
ments by human volitions so long, therefore, as the 
miraculous character of the event is but an inference 
from the supposed inadequacy of the laws of physical 
nature to account for it, so long will the hypothesis 
of a natural origin for the phenomenon be entitled to 
preference over that of a supernatural one. The 
commonest principles of sound judgment forbid us 
to suppose for any effect a cause of which we have 



absolutely no experience, unless all those of which 
we have experience are ascertained to be absent. 
Now there are few things of which we have more 
frequent experience than of physical facts which our 
knowledge does not enable us to account for, because 
they depend either on laws which observation, aided 
by science, has not yet brought to light, or on facts- 
the presence of which in the particular case is un- 
suspected by us. Accordingly when we hear of a 
prodigy we always, in these modern times, believe 
that if it really occurred it was neither the work of 
God nor of a demon, but the consequence of some 
unknown natural law or of some hidden fact. Nor 
is either of these suppositions precluded when, as in 
the case of a miracle properly so called, the wonderful 
event seemed to depend upon the will of a human 
being. It is always possible that there may be at 
work some undetected law of nature which the 
wonder-worker may have acquired, consciously or un- 
consciously, the power of calling into action ; or that 
the wonder may have been wrought (as in the truly 
extraordinary feats of jugglers) by the employment, 
unperceived by us, of ordinary laws : which also need 
not necessarily be a case of voluntary deception ; or, 
lastly, the event may have had no connection with 
the volition at all, but the coincidence between them 
may be the effect of craft or accident, the miracle- 
worker having seemed or affected to produce by his 


will that which was already about to take place, as 
if one were to command an eclipse of the sun at the 
moment when one knew by astronomy that an eclipse 
was on the point of taking place. In a case of this 
description, the miracle might be tested by a 
challenge to repeat it ; but it is worthy of remark, 
that recorded miracles were seldom or never put to 
this test. No miracle-worker seems ever to have 
made a practice of raising the dead : that and the 
other most signal of the miraculous operations are 
reported to have been performed only in one or a few 
isolated cases, which may have been either cunningly 
selected cases, or accidental coincidences. There is, 
in short, nothing to exclude the supposition that 
every alleged miracle was due to natural causes : and 
as long as that supposition remains possible, no 
scientific observer, and no man of ordinary practical 
judgment, would assume by conjecture a cause which 
no reason existed for supposing to be real, save 
the necessity of accounting for something which is 
sufficiently accounted for without it. 

Were we to stop here, the case against miracles 
might seem to be complete. But on further inspec- 
tion it will be seen that we cannot, from the above 
considerations, conclude absolutely that the miracu- 
lous theory of the production of a phenomenon ought 
to be at once rejected. We can conclude only that 
no extraordinary powers which have ever been alleged 


to be exercised by any human being over nature, can 
be evidence of miraculous gifts to any one to whom 
the existence of a supernatural Being, and his inter- 
ference in human affairs, is not already a vera causa. 
The existence of God cannot possibly be proved by 
miracles, for unless a God is already recognized, the 
apparent miracle can always be accounted for on a 
more probable hypothesis than that of the inter- 
ference of a Being of whose very existence it is 
supposed to be the sole evidence. Thus far Hume's 
argument is conclusive. But it is far from being 
equally so when the existence of a Being who 
created the present order of Nature, and, therefore, 
may well be thought to have power to modify it, is 
accepted as a fact, or even as a probability resting on 
independent evidence. Once admit a God, and the 
production by his direct volition of an effect which 
in any case owed its origin to his creative will, is no 
longer a purely arbitrary hypothesis to account for 
the fact, but must be reckoned with as a serious 
possibility. The question then changes its character, 
and the decision of it must now rest upon what is 
known or reasonably surmised as to the manner of 
God's government of the universe : whether this 
knowledge or surmise makes it the more probable 
supposition that the event was brought about by the 
agencies by which his government is ordinarily 
carried on, or that it is the result of a special and 


extraordinary interposition of his will in supersession 
of those ordinary agencies. 

In the first place, then, assuming as a fact the 
existence and providence of Grod, the whole of our 
observation of Nature proves to us by incontrover- 
tible evidence that the rule of his government is by 
means of second causes : that all facts, or at least all 
physical facts, follow uniformly upon given physical 
conditions, and never occur but when the appropriate 
collection of physical conditions is realized. I limit 
the assertion to physical facts, in order to leave the 
case of human volition an open question : though 
indeed I need not do so, for if the human will is 
free, it has been left free by the Creator, and is not 
controlled by him either through second causes or 
directly, so that, not being governed, it is not a spe- 
cimen of his mode of government. Whatever he 
does govern, he governs by second causes. This was 
not obvious in the infancy of science ; ifc was more 
and more recognized as the processes of nature were 
more carefully and accurately examined, until there 
now remains no class of phenomena of which it is 
not positively known, save some cases which from 
their obscurity and complication our scientific pro- 
cesses have not yet been able completely to clear up 
and disentangle, and in which, therefore, the proof 
that they also are governed by natural laws could 
not, in the present state of science, be more complete. 


The evidence, though merely negative, which these 
circumstances afford that government by second 
causes is universal, is admitted for all except directly 
religious purposes to be conclusive. When either a 
man of science for scientific or a man of the world 
for practical purposes inquires into an event, he asks 
himself what is its cause? and not, has it any natural 
cause? A man would be laughed at who set down 
as one of the alternative suppositions that there is no 
other cause for it than the will of God. 

Against this weight of negative evidence we have 
to set such positive evidence as is produced in attes- 
tation of exceptions ; in other words, the positive 
evidences of miracles. And I have already admitted 
that this evidence might conceivably have been such 
as to make the exception equally certain with the 
rule. If we had the direct testimony of our senses 
to a supernatural fact, it might be as completely 
authenticated and made certain as any natural one. 
But we never have. The supernatural character of 
the fact is always, as I have said, matter of inference 
and speculation : and the mystery always admits the 
possibility of a solution not supernatural. To those 
who already believe in supernatural power, the 
supernatural hypothesis may appear more probable 
than the natural one; but only if it accords with 
what we know or reasonably surmise respecting the 
ways of the supernatural agent. Now all that we 


know, from the evidence of nature, concerning his 
ways, is in harmony with the natural theory and 
repugnant to the supernatural. There is, therefore, 
a vast preponderance of probability against a miracle, 
to counterbalance which would require a very extra- 
ordinary and indisputable congruity in the supposed 
miracle and its circumstances with something which 
we conceive ourselves to know, or to have grounds for 
believing, with regard to the divine attributes. 

This extraordinary congruity is supposed to exist 
when the purpose of the miracle is extremely beneficial 
to mankind, as when it serves to accredit some highly 
important belief. The goodness of God, it is supposed, 
affords a high degree of antecedent probability that he 
would make an exception to his general rule of govern- 
ment, for so excellent a purpose. For reasons, how- 
ever, which have already been entered into, any 
inference drawn by us from the goodness of God to 
what he has or has not actually done, is to the last 
degree precarious. If we reason directly from God's 
goodness to positive facts, no misery, nor vice nor 
crime ought to exist in the world. We can see no 
reason in God's goodness why if he deviated once from 
the ordinary system of his government in order to do 
good to man, he should not have done so on a hundred 
other occasions ; nor why, if the benefit aimed at by 
some given deviation, such as the revelation of 
'Christianity, was transcendent and unique, that 



precious gift should only have been vouchsafed after 
the lapse of many ages ; or why, when it was at last 
given, the evidence of it should have been left open to 
so much doubt and difficulty. Let it be remembered 
also that the goodness of God affords no presumption 
in favour of a deviation from his general system of 
government unless the good purpose could not have 
been attained without deviation. If God intended 


that mankind should receive Christianity or any other 
gift, it would have agreed better with all that we know 
of his government to have made provision in the 
scheme of creation for its arising at the appointed 
time by natural development ; which, let it be added, 
all the knowledge we now possess concerning the 
history of the human mind, tends to the conclusion 
/ that it actually did. 

To all these considerations ought to be added the 
extremely imperfect nature of the testimony itself 
which we possess for the miracles, real or supposed, 
which accompanied the foundation of Christianity and 
of every other revealed religion. Take it at the best, 
it is the uncross-examined testimony of extremely 
ignorant people, credulous as such usually are, honour- 
ably credulous when the excellence of the doctrine or 
just reverence for the teacher makes them eager 
to believe ; unaccustomed to draw the line between 
the perceptions of sense, and what is superinduced upon 
them by the suggestions of a lively imagination ; un- 


versed in the difficult art of deciding between appear- 
ance and reality, and between the natural and the 
supernatural; in times, moreover, when no one thought 
it worth while to contradict any alleged miracle, 
because it was the belief of the age that miracles in 
themselves proved nothing, since they could be worked 
by a lying spirit as well as by the spirit of (rod* 
Such were the witnesses ; and even of them we do not 
possess the direct testimony; the documents, of date long 
subsequent, even on the orthodox theory, which contain 
the only history of these events, very often do not 
even name the supposed eye-witnesses. They put 
down (it is but just to admit), the best and least absurd 
of the wonderful stories such multitudes of which were 
current among the early Christians ; but when they 
do, exceptionally, name any of the persons who were 
the subjects or spectators of the miracle, they doubtless 
draw from tradition, and mention those names with 
which the story was in the popular mind, (perhaps 
accidentally) connected : for whoever has observed the 
way in which even now a story grows up from some 
small foundation, taking on additional details at every 
step, knows well how from being at first anonymous 
it gets names attached to it ; the name of some one 
by whom perhaps the story has been told, being brought 
into the story itself first as a witness, and still later 
as a party concerned. 

It is also noticeable and is a very important con- 


sideration, that stories of miracles only grow up among 
the ignorant and are adopted, if ever, by the educated 
when they have already become the belief of multitudes. 
Those which are believed by Protestants all originate 
in ages and nations in which there was hardly any 
canon of probability, and miracles were thought to be 
among the commonest of all phenomena. The Catholic 
Church, indeed, holds as an article of faith that 
miracles have never ceased, and new ones continue to 
be now and then brought forth and believed, even in 
the present incredulous age yet if in an incredulous 
generation certainly not among the incredulous portion 
of it, but always among people who, in addition to the 
most childish ignorance, have grown up (as all do who 
are educated by the Catholic clergy) trained in the per- 
suasion that it is a duty to believe and a sin to doubt ; 
that it is dangerous to be sceptical about anything 
which is tendered for belief in the name of the true 
religion ; and that nothing is so contrary to piety as in- 
credulity. But these miracles which no one but aEoman 
Catholic, and by no means every Eoman Catholic 
believes, rest frequently upon an amount of testimony 
greatly surpassing that which we possess for any of 
the early miracles ; and superior especially in one of 
the most essential points, that in many cases the 
alleged eye-witnesses are known, and we have their 
story at first hand. 

Thus, then, stands the balance of evidence in respect 
to the reality of miracles, assuming the existence and 


government of God to be proved by other evidence. 
On the one side, the great negative presumption 
arising from the whole of what the course of nature 
discloses to us of the divine government, as carried 
on through second causes and by invariable sequences 
of physical effects upon constant antecedents. On the 
other side, a few exceptional instances, attested by 
evidence not of a character to warrant belief in any 
facts in the smallest degree unusual or improbable; 
the eye-witnesses in most cases unknown, in none 
competent by character or education to scrutinize the 
real nature of the appearances which they may have 
seen,* and moved moreover by a union of the strongest 
motives which can inspire human beings to persuade, 
first themselves, and then others, that what they had 
seen was a miracle. The facts, too, even if faith/ 
fully reported, are never Incompatible with the sup- 
position that they were either mere coincidences, or 
were produced by natural means; even when no 
specific conjecture can be made as to those means, 
which in general it can. The conclusion I draw is 
that miracles have no claim whatever to the character 
of historical facts and are wholly invalid as evidences 
of any revelation. 

What can be said with truth on the side of miracles 

* St. Paul, the only known exception to the ignorance and want of 
education of the first generation of Christians, attests no miracle but 
that of his own conversion, which of all the miracles of the New 
Testament is the one which admits of the easiest explanation from 
natural causes. 


amounts only to this : Considering that the order of 
nature affords some evidence of the reality of a 
Creator, and of his bearing good will to his creatures 
though not of its being the sole prompter of his con- 
duct towards them : considering, again, that all the 
evidence of his existence is evidence also that he is 
not all-powerful, and considering that in our igno- 
rance of the limits of his power we cannot positively 
decide that he was able to provide for us by the 
original plan of Creation all the good which it 
entered into his intentions to bestow upon us, 
or even to bestow any part of it at any earlier 
period than that at which we actually received it 
considering these things, when we consider further 
that a gift, extremely precious, came to us which 
though facilitated was not apparently necessitated by 
what had gone before, but was due, as far as appear- 
ances go, to the peculiar mental and moral endow- 
ments of one man, and that man openly proclaimed 
that it did not come from himself but from God 

- _,_ - '' *' ' ' '"'* "^* ^"*"**^*- | n ^ ^^^..i ...-. ^fc. 

through him, then we are entitled to say that there is 
nothing so inherently impossible or absolutely in- 
credible in this supposition as to preclude any one 
from hoping that it may perhaps be true. I say 
from hoping ; I go no further ; for I cannot attach 
any evidentiary value to the testimony even of Christ 
on such a subject, since he is never said to have 
-declared any evidence of his mission (unless his own 


interpretations of the Prophecies be so considered) 
except internal conviction ; and everybody knows that 
in prescientific times men always supposed that any 
unusual faculties which came to them they knew not 
how, were an inspiration from Grod; the best men 
always being the readiest to ascribe any honourable 
peculiarity in themselves to that higher source, rather 
than to their own merits. 


, ' 


Tj^BOM the result of the preceding examination of the 
- 1 - evidences of Theism, and (Theism being presupposed) 
of the evidences of any Bevelation, it follows tha,t the 
rational attitude of a thinking mind towards the 
supernatural, whether in natural or in revealed religion, 
is that of scepticism as distinguished from belief on 
the one hand, and from atheism on the other : in- 
cluding, in the present case, under atheism, the nega- 
tive as well as the positive form of disbelief in a God, 
viz., not only the dogmatic denial of his existence, 
but the denial that there is any evidence on either 
side, which for most practical purposes amounts to 
the same thing as if the existence of a God had 
been disproved. If we are right in the conclusions 
to which we have been led by the preceding inquiry 
there is evidence, but insufficient for proof, and 
amounting only to one of the lower degrees of 
probability. The indication given by such evidence 


as there is. points to the creation, not indeed of the 
universe, but of the present order of it by an In- 
telligent Mind, whose power over the materials was 
not absolute, whose love for his creatures was not his 
sole actuating inducement, but who nevertheless 
desired their good. The notion of a providential 
government by an omnipotent Being for the good 
of his creatures must be entirely dismissed. Even 
of the continued existence of the Creator we have 
no other guarantee than that he cannot be subject 
to the law of death which affects terrestrial beings, 
since the conditions that produce this liability 
wherever it is known to exist are of his creating. 
That this Being, not being omnipotent, may have 
produced a machinery falling short of his intentions, 
and which may require the occasional interposition 
of the Maker's hand, is a supposition not in itself 
absurd nor impossible, though in none of the cases in 
which such interposition is believed to have occurred 
is the evidence such as could possibly prove it ; it 
remains a simple possibility, which those may dwell 
on to whom it yields comfort to suppose that blessings 
which ordinary human power is inadequate to attain, 
may come not from extraordinary human power, but 
from the bounty of an intelligence beyond the human, 
and which continuously cares for man. The pos- 
sibility of a life after death rests on the same footing 
of a boon which this powerful Being who wishes 


well to man, may have the power to grant, and 
which if the message alleged to have been sent by 
him was really sent, he has actually promised. 
The whole domain of the supernatural is thus 
removed from the region of Belief into that of simple 
Hope ; and in that, for anything we can see, it 
is likely always to remain ; for we can hardly anti- 
cipate either that any positive evidence will be 
acquired of the direct agency of Divine Benevolence 
in human destiny, or that any reason will be dis- 
covered for considering the realization of human 
hopes 011 that subject as beyond the pale of 

It is now to be considered whether the indulgence 
of hope, in a region of imagination merely, in which 
there is no prospect that any probable grounds of 
expectation will ever be obtained, is irrational, and 
ought to be discouraged as a departure from the 
rational principle of regulating our feelings as well 
as opinions strictly by evidence. 

This is a point which different thinkers are likety, 
for a long time at least, to decide differently, accord- 
ing to their individual temperament. The principles 
which ought to govern the cultivation and the regu- 
lation of the imagination -with a view on the one 
hand of preventing it from disturbing the rectitude 
of the intellect and the right direction of the actions 
and will, and on the other hand of employing it as a 


power for increasing the happiness of life and giving 
elevation to the character are a subject which has 
never yet engaged the serious consideration of philo- 
sophers, though some opinion on it is implied in 
almost all modes of thinking on human character and 
education. And, I expect, that this will hereafter be 
regarded as a very important branch of study for 
practical purposes, and the more, in proportion as the 
weakening of positive beliefs respecting states of ex- 
istence superior to the human, leaves the imagination 
of higher things less provided with material from the 
domain of supposed reality. To me it seems that 
human life, small and confined as it is, and as, con- 
sidered merely in the present, it is likely to remain 
even when the progress of material and moral im- 
provement may have freed it from the greater part of 
its present calamities, stands greatly in need of any 
wider range and greater height of aspiration for itself 
and its destination, which the exercise of imagination 
ean yield to it without running counter to the evi- 
dence of fact ; and that it is a part of wisdom to 
make the most of any, even small, probabilities on 
this subject, which furnish imagination with any 
footing to support itself upon. And I am . satisfied 
that the cultivation of such a tendency in the imagi- 
nation, provided it goes onpari passu with the culti- 
vation of severe reason, has no necessary tendency to 
pervert the judgment; but that it is possible to form 

R 2 


a perfectly sober estimate of the evidences on both 
sides of a question and yet to let the imagination 
dwell by preference on those possibilities, which are 
at once the most comforting and the most improving, 
without in the least degree overrating the solidity 
of the grounds for expecting that these rather than 
any others will be the possibilities actually realized. 

Though this is not in the number of the practical 
maxims handed down by tradition and recognized as 
rules for the conduct of life, a great part of the hap- 
piness of life depends upon the tacit observance of it. 
What, for instance, is the meaning of that which is 
always accounted one of the chief blessings of life, a 
cheerful disposition ? What but the tendency, either 
from constitution or habit, to dwell chiefly on the 
brighter side both of the present and of the future ? 
If every aspect, whether agreeable or odious of every 
thing, ought to occupy exactly the same place in ou_ 
imagination which it fills in fact, and therefore ought 
to fill in our deliberate reason, what we call a cheer- 
ful disposition would be but one of the forms of folly, 
on a par except in agreeableness with the opposite 
disposition in which the gloomy and painful view of 
all things is habitually predominant. But it is not 
found in practice that those who take life cheerfully 
are less alive to rational prospects of evil or danger 
and more careless of making due provision against 
them, than other people. The tendency is rather the 


-other way, for a hopeful disposition gives a spur to 
ihe faculties and keeps all the active energies in good 
working order. When imagination and reason re- 
ceive each its appropriate culture they do not succeed 
in usurping each other's prerogatives. It is not 
necessary for keeping up our conviction that we must 
die. that we should be always brooding over death. 
It is far better that we should think no further about 
what we cannot possibly avert, than is required for 
observing the rules of prudence in regard to our 
own life and that of others, and fulfilling whatever 
duties devolve upon us in contemplation of the ine- 
vitable event. The way to secure this is not to 
think perpetually of death, but to think perpetually 
of our duties, and of the rule of life. The true rule 
of practical wisdom is not that of making all the 
aspects of things equally prominent in our habitual 
.contemplations, but of giving the greatest prominence 
to those of their aspects which depend on, or can be 
modified by, our own conduct. In things which 
do not depend on us, it is not solely for the sake of 
a more enjoyable life that the habit is desirable of 
looking at things and at mankind by preference on 
their pleasant side ; it is also in order that we may 
be able to love them better and work with more 
heart for their improvement. To what purpose, in- 
deed, should we feed our imagination with the un- 
lovely aspect of persons and things ? All unnecessary 


dwelling upon the evils of life is at best a useless 
expenditure of nervous force : and when I say un- 
necessary I mean all that is not necessary either in 
the sense of being unavoidable, or in that of being 
needed for the performance of our duties and for 
preventing our sense of the reality of those evils from 
becoming speculative and dim. But if it is often 
waste of strength to dwell on the evils of life, it 
is worse than waste to dwell habitually on its mean- 
nesses and basenesses. It is necessary to be aware of 
them; but to live in their contemplation makes it 
scarcely possible to keep up in oneself a high tone of 
mind. The imagination and feelings become tuned 
to a lower pitch ; degrading instead of elevating asso- 
ciations become connected with the daily objects and 
incidents of life, and give their colour to the thoughts, 
just as associations of sensuality do in those who in- 
dulge freely in that sort of contemplations. Men 
have often felt what it is to have had their imagi- 
nations corrupted by one class of ideas, and I think 
they must have felt with the same kind of pain how 
the poetry is taken out of the things fullest of it, 
by mean associations, as when a beautiful air that 
had been associated with highly poetical words is 
heard sung with trivial and vulgar ones. All these 
things are said in mere illustration of the principle 
that in the regulation of the imagination literal truth 
of facts is not the only thing to be considered* 


Truth is the province of reason, and it is by the 
cultivation of the rational faculty that provision is 
made for its being known always, and thought of as 
often as is required by duty and the circumstances of 
human life. But when the reason is strongly cul- 

o J 

tivated, the imagination may safely follow its own 
end, and do its best to make life pleasant and lovely 
inside the castle, in reliance on the fortifications raised 
and maintained by Reason round the outward bounds. 
On these principles it appears to me that the indul- 
gence of hope with regard to the government of the 
universe and the destiny of man after death, while 
we recognize as a clear truth that we have no ground 
for more than a hope, is legitimate and philo- 
sophically defensible. The beneficial effect of such 
a hope is far from trifling. It makes life and human 
nature a far greater thing to the feelings, and gives 
greater strength as well as greater solemnity to all 
the sentiments which are awakened in us by our 
fellow-creatures and by mankind at large. It allays 
the sense of that irony of Nature which is so pain- 
fully felt when we see the exertions and sacrifices of 
a life culminating in the formation of a wise and 
noble mind, only to disappear from the world when 
the time has just arrived at which the .world seems 
about to begin reaping the benefit of it. The truth 
that life is short and art is long is from of old one of 
the most discouraging parts of our condition; this 


hope admits the possibility that the art employed in 
improving and beautifying the soul itself may avail 
for good in some other life, even when seemingly 
useless for this. But the benefit consists less in the 
presence of any specific hope than in the enlargement 
of the general scale of the feelings ; the loftier aspira- 
tions being no longer in the same degree checked and 
kept down by a sense of the insignificance of human 
life by the disastrous feeling of e not worth while.' 
The gain obtained in the increased inducement to 
cultivate the improvement of character up to the end 
of life, is obvious without being specified. 

There is another and a most important exercise of 
imagination which, in the past and present, has been 
kept up principally by means of religious belief and 
which is infinitely precious to mankind, so much so 
that human excellence greatly depends upon the 
sufficiency of the provision made for it. This con- 
sists of the familiarity of the imagination with the 
conception of a moralty perfect Being, and the habit 
of taking the approbation of such a Being as the 
norma or standard to which to refer and by which to 
regulate our own characters and lives. This idealiza- 
tion of our standard of excellence in a Person is quite 
possible, even when that Person is conceived as 
merely imaginary. But religion, since the birth of 
Christianity, has inculcated the belief that our highest 
conceptions of combined wisdom and goodness exist 


in the concrete in a living Being who has his eyes on 
us and cares for our good. Through the darkest and 
most corrupt periods Christianity has raised this 
torch on high has kept this object of veneration and 
imitation before the eyes of man. True, the image 
of perfection has been a most imperfect, and, in many 
respects a perverting and corrupting one, not only 
from the low moral ideas of the times, but from the 
mass of moral contradictions which the deluded 
worshipper was compelled to swallow by the sup- 
posed necessity of complimenting the Good Principle 
with the possession of infinite power. But it is one 
of the most universal as well as of the most surprising 
characteristics of human nature, and one of the most 
speaking proofs of the low stage to which the reason 
of mankind at large has ever yet advanced, that they 
are capable of overlooking any amount of either 
moral or intellectual contradictions and receiving 
into their minds propositions utterly inconsistent 
with one another, not only without being shocked 
by the contradiction, but without preventing both 
the contradictory beliefs from producing a part at 
least of their natural consequences in the mind. 
Pious men and women have gone on ascribing to 
God particular acts and a general course of will and 
conduct incompatible with even the most ordinary 
.and limited conception of moral goodness, and have 
had their own ideas of morality, in many important 


particulars, totally warped and distorted, and notwith- 
standing this have continued to conceive their God 
as clothed with all the attributes of the highest ideal 
goodness which their state of mind enabled them to 
conceive, and have had their aspirations towards 
goodness stimulated and encouraged by that concep- 
tion. And, it cannot be^guestioned that the un- 
doubting belief of the real existence .of a Being who 
realizes our own best ideas of perfection, and of our 
TSemg^in the hands of that Being as the ruler of the 

universe, gives an increase of force to these feelings 
beyond what they can receive from reference to a 
-nre"fely ideaT conception . 

This particular advantage it is not possible for 
those to enjoy, who take a rational view of the nature 
and amount of the evidence for the existence and 
attributes of the Creator. On the other hand, they 
are not encumbered with the moral contradictions 
which beset every form of religion which aims at 
justifying in a moral point of view the whole govern- 
ment of the world. They are, therefore, enabled to 
form a far truer and more consistent conception of 
Ideal Goodness, than is possible to any one who 
thinks it necessary to find ideal goodness in an omni- 
potent ruler of the world. The power of the Creator 
once recognized as limited, there is nothing to dis- 
prove tlie supposition that his goodness is complete 
and that the ideally perfect character in whose like- 


ness we should wish to form ourselves and to whose 
supposed approbation we refer our actions, may have 
a real existence in a Being to whom we owe all such 
good as we enjoy. 

" ^jove ally the., most valuable part of the effect, on 
the character which Christianity has produced by 
holding up in a Divine Person a standard of excellence 
and a model for imitation, is available even to the 
absolute unbeliever and can never more be lost to 
humanity. Tor it is Christ, rather than God. whom 

, __ .- fi "' *- ' inn * ~~ ~* i...,. 

Christianity has held up to believers as the pattern of 
perfection for humanity. It is the God incarnate, 
more than the God of the Jews or of Nature, who 
being idealized has taken so great and salutary a hold 
on the modern mind. And whatever else may be 
taken away from us by rational criticism, Christ is still 
left ; a unique figure, not more unlike all his precursors 
than all his followers, even those who had the direct 
benefit of his personal teaching. It is of no use to say 
tliatTJKrist as exhibited in the Gospels is not historical 
and that we know not how much of what is admirable 
Eas been superadded by the tradition of his followers. 
The tradition of followers suffices to insert any num- 
ber of marvels, and may have inserted all the miracles 
which he is reputed to have wrought. But who 
among^ his__disciples or among their proselytes was 
capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus or 
of imagining the life and character revealed in the 


Gospels ? Certainly not the fishermen of Galilee ; 
as certainly not St. Paul, whose character and 
idiosyncrasies were of a totally different sort ; still 
less the early Christian writers in whom nothing 
is more evident than that the good which was in them 
was all derived, as they always professed that it was 
derived, from the higher source. "What could be 
.added and interpolated by a disciple we may see in the 
mystical parts of the Gospel of St. John, matter im- 
ported from Philo and the Alexandrian Platonists and 
put into the mouth of the Saviour in long speeches 
about himself such as the other Gospels contain not 
the slightest vestige of, though pretended to have 
been delivered on occasions of the deepest interest and 
when his principal followers were all present ; most 
prominently at the last supper. The East was full 
of men who could have stolen any quantity of this 
poor stuff, as the multitudinous Oriental sects of 
Gnostics afterwards did. But about the life and say- 

,...-.-;-.. . 

ings of Jesus there is a stamp of personal originality 
combined with profundity of insight, which if we 
aBandon the idle expectation of finding scientific 
precision where something very different was aimed 
at, must place the Prophet of Nazareth, even in the 
estimation of those who have no belief in his inspira- 
tion, in the very first rank of the men of sublime 
genius of whom our species can boast. When this 
pre-eminent genius is combined with the qualities of 


probably the greatest moral reformer, and martyr to 
that mission, who ever existed upon earth, religion 
cannot be said to have made a bad choice in pitching 
on this man as the ideal representative and guide of 
humanity; nor, even now, would it be easy, even 
for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the 
rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete, than 
to endeavour so to live that Christ would approve our 
, - life. Wh^n to this we add that, to the conception of 

the rational sceptic, it remains a possibility that Christ 
actually was what he supposed himself to be not 
God, for he never made the smallest pretension to 
that character and would probably have thought such 
a pretension as blasphemous as it seemed to the men 
who condemned him but a man charged with a 
special, express and^ unique commission from Grodjfco 
lead mankind to truth and virtue; we may well 
conclude that the influences of religion on fche character 
which will remain after rational criticism has done its 
utmost against the evidences of religion, are well 
worth preserving, and that what they lack in direct 
strength as compared with those of a firmer belief, is 
more than compensated by the greater truth and 
rectitude of the morality they sanction. 

Impressions such as these, though not in them- 
selves amounting to what can properly be called a 
religion, seem to me excellently fitted to aid and 
fortify that real, though purely human religion, which 


sometimes calls itself the Eeligion of Humanity and 
sometimes that of Duty. To the other inducements 
for cultivating a religious devotion to the welfare of our 
fellow-creatures as an obligatory limit to every selfish 
aim, and an end for the direct promotion of which no 
sacrifice can be too great, it superadds the feeling 
that in making this the rule of our life, we may be 
co-operating with the unseen Being to whom we owe 
all that is enjoyable in life. One elevated feeling 
this form of religious idea admits of, which is not 
open to those who believe in the omnipotence of the 
good principle in the universe, the feeling of helping 
God of requiting the good he has given by a volun- 
tary co-operation which he, not being omnipotent, 
really needs, and by which a somewhat nearer ap- 
proach may be made to the fulfilment of his purposes. 
The conditions of human existence are highly favour- 
able to the growth of such a feeling-'inasmtich as a 
battle is constantly going on, in which the humblest 
human creature is not incapable of taking some part, 
between the powers of good and those of evil, and in 
which every even the smallest help to the right side has 
its value in promoting the very slow and often almost 
insensible progress by which good is gradually gain- 
ing ground from evil, yet gaining it so visibly at con- 
siderable intervals as to promise the very distant but 
not uncertain final victory of Good. To do something 
during life, on even the humblest scale if nothing 


more is within reach, towards bringing this con- 
summation ever so little nearer, is the most animating 
and invigorating thought which can inspire a human 
creature ; and that it is destined, with or without 
supernatural sanctions, to be the religion of the 
Future I cannot entertain a doubt. But it appears 
to me that supernatural hopes, in the degree and 
kind in which what I have called rational scepticism 
does not refuse to sanction them, may still con- 
tribute not a little to give to this religion its due 
ascendancy over the human mind. 






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